Airbus wary of contagion from 787 problems

European aircraft maker Airbus is wary that problems which have grounded rival Boeing's 787 Dreamliner could also delay the commercial launch of the A350 airliner that Airbus hopes will get it back into the long-haul game.

"Certification authorities, the FAA and its European equivalent, the European Aviation Safety Agency, are going to become very nervous," an Airbus executive said in reference to the US Federal Aviation Administration, which is probing electrical problems with the 787.

The manager expects air safety officials to strengthen tests for new aircraft, which would likely mean potentially costly delivery delays for the A350.

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Although its A320 plane is very competitive in the short- and medium-haul markets, Airbus has found it hard to challenge Boeing's 747s and 777s in the segment for long-distance airliners.

Like the Dreamliner, the Airbus A350, which is to enter service in the second half of 2014, uses lots of composite materials and shifts some of the mechanics from hydraulic systems to electrical ones, which is where Boeing has run into trouble.

Last week, Airbus head Fabrice Berger refused to gloat after the 787 was grounded owing to a problem with its lithium-ion batteries, and said: "If the FAA issued some directives and recommendations, we will study them very carefully and see if they might apply to the A350."

But Airbus executives also underscore differences between the rival planes, which represent the cutting edge of civilian aerospace technology aimed at substantial fuel savings for airlines.

"They maxed out on the technology, they maxed out on outsourcing," one Airbus exec said. "We were more conservative."

Boeing built the 787 with a fully composite fuselage to save weight, whereas the A350 wraps composite panels around a metal frame, for example, and relies less on electronic systems for flight controls.

Boeing also had around 70 percent of the 787 built by strategic partners that were tasked with managing relations with sub-contractors, according to US aerospace specialist Steve Denning.

He wrote in the US magazine Forbes that Boeing realized over time that not all its partners had the require expertise.

EADS execs acknowledge the A350 will also experience teething problems, but as one said: "We were lucky to come after Boeing and learn from what they have come up against," and Airbus will also now avoid suppliers who have not made the grade.

by Usman Sharifi © 2013 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jan 22, 2013