Airbus mulls stretch as it prepares to deliver A350

Airbus has said it could stretch the largest of the A350-family aircraft should it receive enough demand, although its first priority is to prepare for the A350-900's entry into service (EIS) in 2H 2014.

Speaking to the media the A350's programmes chief, Didier Evrard, said Airbus was on track with the A350-900 and that flight test trials were "going well”.

The aircraft had its first test flight on June 14, 2013 and Airbus hope to certify it in August 2014, ready for delivery to its launch customer, Qatar, in October.

The manufacturer will try to avoid any early hiccups by excluding lithium batteries (the technology that plagued the 787’s entry into service) from the A350 in the first year after first delivery.

Although two test A350-900s are equipped with lithium batteries, the commercial aircraft will use the standard nickel cadmium batteries. Airbus will introduce lithium packs a year after first delivery and once they have been approved.

"We didn't seek initial certification for the A350 with lithium because we didn't want to take any risk of delay," explained Evrard. "But we think our lithium power design is sufficiently different."

Evrard said Airbus could stretch the A350-1000 by adding panels to its fuselage. "Stretching further is possible, there are no show-stoppers, but today it's still in the pre-concept phase."

He added: "It's a question of market, of priorities, and we will continue to listen to our customers about what's best for them."

With three variants of the A350, Airbus will not be in a rush to stretch it just yet. First, it will roll out the 300-seat A350-900; then the 350-seat A350-1000 and 270-seat A350-800.
And, with a sizeable backlog of 756 A350 orders as of the end of September, Airbus will have its hands full for some time.

Airbus will increase its production from one to three a month by the end of 2014 and plans to up this to 10 a month within four years after entering service. Evrard said it would wait until 2016 before deciding any further production increases for the programme.

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