By Polya Lesova
Published: 19 June 2011
PARIS (MarketWatch) — Airbus has announced delays for two of its A350 wide-body models and said it will jointly develop with Rolls-Royce the biggest version of the aircraft with a more powerful engine.
The A350-900, the baseline model from the A350 family, is still on track to enter service in the second half of 2013.
The news comes ahead of next week’s Paris Air Show, a huge gathering of the aerospace and defense industry, where Airbus is expected to announce a number of big aircraft orders, particularly for its A320 narrow-body aircraft.
At a media briefing Saturday, Airbus, a unit of EADS EADSY -0.39% FR:EAD -0.72% , said it now expects to deliver the A350-1000 — the largest of the three models, which will have 350 seats — in mid-2017 rather than 2015.
The A350-1000 is meant to compete against Boeing Co.’s BA -0.26% 777-300ER, which entered service in May 2004 and carries 365 passengers.
Together with British engine maker Rolls-Royce UK:RR -0.59% , Airbus will jointly develop the A350-1000 with a more powerful version of the Trent XWB engine, which will improve the aircraft’s payload and range.
The engine will deliver as much as 97,000 pounds of thrust on takeoff and will be the most powerful engine ever built for an Airbus aircraft, the two firms said. They added that Rolls-Royce has an exclusive deal to make the engine for the -1000.
“Several leading airlines were encouraging us to get more range, to get more payload; they were saying it’s almost there,” said John Leahy, who heads sales for Airbus. “Most of the world’s airlines are going to be delighted with this airplane. It will sell for about $9 million more.”
Mark King, president for civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce, said: “This will cost more, but it is a significantly lower-risk program than a new engine program. There are significant parts of the engine that we are not changing.”
King said it was unlikely to put this engine on another airplane, but the technology will be fed into all other Rolls-Royce engines.
“I wouldn’t use the expression locked up,” King said, regarding the exclusive agreement with Airbus to build the engine for the A350-1000. “We’ve never sought exclusivity for the -800 and -900. We have sought to demonstrate that there is no need for another engine.”
Airbus also said it expects to deliver the A350-800 — which will offer 270 seats — in mid-2016 rather than 2014. The A350-900, the baseline model with 314 seats, is still on schedule.
“We have listened to the market, and the first customers of the -800 have decided to migrate to the -900,” said Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer of Airbus. “We will focus our resources on the -900.”
The fuselage of the A350 is made largely of composite material, and its low weight will help reduce fuel cost and emissions. At the release of its first-quarter results in May, EADS had said that the A350 program “remains challenging.”
“We are confident for the big parts that we have managed to get through all the traps of manufacturing with new composite materials such large parts,” Bregier said Saturday, regarding the A350-900. “It doesn’t mean everything is OK. We have an objective to start the assembly line at the end of 2011. It is a race against the clock.”
The first flight is expected at the end of 2012, with entry into service at the end of 2013.
Airbus currently has 574 orders from 36 customers for its A350 XWB, which stands for extra wide body. It has 359 orders for the -900 model, 140 orders for the -800 version, and 75 orders for the -1000.
“I think it’s good for Airbus and its customers to recognize reality,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at aerospace and defense consultancy Teal Group, in emailed comments. “The idea of using a single engine to power all three rather different versions never made a lot of sense. They’re basically in the same place as before the announcement.”
“The -1000 could be a great plane, with new engines. The -900 looks good, but it too could suffer delays. The -800 model continues to look mediocre, at best,” Aboulafia said.