Australian Aviation was among the first media to take a close look at the A350, the first composite commercial aircraft by Airbus and one the manufacturer has pinned its long-range competitive hopes on.
With the test flight team named, high-power engine runs undertaken and high-speed taxi and runway tests due in the coming days, the chance to exhibit the A350 at Le Bourget is going to be temptingly close.
But as head of the A350 program, Didier Evrard, said, the A350’s development has been a lot about de-risking and learning lessons not just from its own product developments, but from Boeing’s recent experiences as well. The pragmatism of the highly experienced program chief means unless the aircraft is ready, it will miss Le Bourget and Airbus will concentrate on “getting it right”.
“It was a great moment having the engines started on the aircraft for the first time,” Evrard declared.
A350 project test pilot, Frank Chapman, said “eager anticipation” was building as the first flight approaches.
“We have a high level of confidence as we move closer to the first flight,” he remarked, as nearly 14,000 of ‘virtual’ flight-testing is completed and transitions to physical flight with MSN1.
The first flight is formally scheduled by Airbus to be completed by August, but is realistically expected within the next one to three weeks, depending on the outcome of ground-based tests, which so far have not uncovered any major concerns, flight test engineers told Australian Aviation.
Both Evrard and Chapman were highly pragmatic in their views, Evrard declaring: “There are things we know, and things we don’t know.” But the retrained confidence of both as they briefed international media in Toulouse suggested they know more than they don’t.
MSN1 will be joined in the flight test program by MSN 3 in October, while MSN2, the first A350 to be fitted with cabin equipment, will be third off the final assembly line in February 2014.
Entry into service is planned for the second half of next year to launch customer Qatar Airways.