Airbus A350 reportedly nearing design finalization

AviationWeek reports that Airbus is close to finalizing design of the A350 XWB and has been testing composite barrel sections for fuselage applications.

AviationWeek reported on Jan. 2 that the Airbus A350 XWB was recently subjected to a far-reaching internal review, which the aircraft maker calls Milestone 5. It reportedly amounts to a detailed definition freeze for the A350, includes a test of carbon fiber composite panels for use on the fuselage, and shifts the engineering focus to parts design and the start of component production.

Airbus isn't discussing what adjustments it may have made to original plans, saying it must brief airline customers first. The report says Airbus CEO Tom Enders characterized the event as a "major review" in which a range of matters, such as weight status, schedule and ramp-up rates, will be scrutinized.

AviationWeek says that as part of the process to validate the A350 design approach, Airbus is working on several structural demonstrators. One, the Barrel 1A, is the first fuselage cross-section demonstrator for the aircraft. It is giving Airbus some experience with the composite panel fuselage construction approach, which differs from Boeing's single-barrel fuselage section design concept. Barrel 1A will undergo electrical systems network testing in 2009. The coming months should also see the addition of an 18m/33-ft-long Barrel 1B demonstrator, with composite frames on a composite substructure, and a door to gain further information during dynamic fatigue tests.

The report also says the A350 is struggling with weight growth, as well. The design remains above its target weight, industry officials indicate. Airbus has largely completed supplier selections, with almost all major systems assigned. Nevertheless, there is still some workshare allocation to be done. Alenia Aeronautica, for instance, is looking to secure A350 subcontracts. Enders indicates the Italians will likely get some work, although it is expected to be less than what Alenia initially targeted. How much work Russian industry will win is also undetermined. The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, so the extent to which companies there can shoulder the financing burden of a major new program is uncertain.

The report also notes that Airbus is moving ahead with industrial preparations. Tooling to start building the A350 was ordered several months ago, and the aircraft maker plans to break ground on the final assembly facility at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, on Jan. 14.

Information: Click here for complete AviationWeek report.