The twin-engine aircraft family is made up of three variants, the -800, -900 and -1000, with the -900 being the launch model. The most important promise made by Airbus is the 25 per cent advantage in fuel efficiency “compared to its nearest long-range competitor”.
The construction of the aircraft is particularly intriguing. More than 70 per cent of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made from advanced materials, combining 53 per cent of composite structures with titanium (14 per cent) and advanced aluminium alloys to create a “very high-tech material airframe”, according to Alan Pardoe, head of marketing communications at Airbus. In addition, the aircraft’s new carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) fuselage helps achieve reduced fuel consumption, as well as easier maintenance.
But it is the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine that will be the main driver of the improved fuel efficiency. “The basic premise behind the selection of Rolls-Royce was that they met our criteria in terms of fuel efficiency and in terms of maintenance costs, but equally important they met our criteria in the ability to provide us with an engine that we could use to power the -800,-900 and -1000. The other two big engine manufacturers were unable to meet those three criteria,” explains Pardoe.
The made to measure engine is the design core of the entire programme, and features more blisks than any preceding Rolls-Royce engine, as well as a new two stage intermediate turbine to drive the compressor. “All of this is efficiency and fuel burn,” points out Pardoe.
The big question remaining is whether the aircraft will actually be delivered on time. “The programme has taken a little longer that originally planned to execute for a whole variety of reasons but right now it is looking like it is running to schedule and we will deliver by the end of the year,” says Pardoe.
He explains that it is simply the “sheer workload” involved with certifying the aircraft that may stand in the way of getting the A350 out on time for its first delivery. This process involves “getting certification documentation to the authorities and having that documentation accepted and validated in time” – a particularly “big effort” because it is a brand new aircraft.
For a full programme update on the A350 XWB, see the current issue of Aircraft Technology Engineering & Maintenance (128), out now and also available to read here.