Cabin suppliers savour A350 prospects as work starts on assembly line
Last week’s groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the Airbus A350 final assembly line in Toulouse was a key milestone on the road towards a major addition to the income streams of cabin systems suppliers around the world.
From 2011 the new Eur140 million, 74,000 sq m facility will be used to join A350 wings and fuselages before the structurally complete airframes go to the nearby A330/A340 area for cabin installation and testing.
The detailed configuration of the new-generation long-haul twin was frozen at the end of last year and the first production example is due to enter service in 2013. With a range of up to 8,300nm/15,400km, it will be offered in three versions: the A350-800 (270 seats in typical three-class layout), the A350-900 (314 seats) and the A350-1000 (350 seats). Orders stand at 478 units from 29 customers.
Drawing on the lessons of the A380 programme, in which delays due to production errors were exacerbated by customer demands for customisation, Airbus is introducing a new way of qualifying cabin system suppliers. Unveiled last year, the Airbus Contracted Supplier (ACS) approach involves a change to the traditional distinction between buyer-furnished and supplier-furnished equipment (BFE, SFE).
Lavatories and galleys will continue to be designated SFE, with Airbus responsible for procuring and installing the equipment. But inflight entertainment and seating – currently designated BFE and selected by the customer from the offerings of a list of approved suppliers – will have to conform to the ACS discipline.
Underlying ACS is Airbus’s decision to select A350 suppliers much earlier in the life of the programme, involving them more closely in fundamental development decisions and making them more responsible for ensuring that their products are compatible with the overall architecture. The aim is to produce for customers a catalogue of available equipment that has the correct interfaces, is fully validated and ready for installation, and is contractually guaranteed to be delivered to the production line on time.
Among the areas targeted by ACS is the integration of IFE with seats, which has sometimes proved problematical on Airbus programmes in the past. Airbus says that the approach is expected to reduce the time between selection of cabin equipment and first installations on the line to eight months, 30 per cent better than on today’s A330 and A340.
Airbus began inviting suppliers to bid for SFE and ACS status last year, with the aim of signing up qualified vendors in the second half of the year. Companies now listed as A350 suppliers include Astronics (in-seat power), B/E Aerospace (galleys, lavatories, seats, cupboards and sidewalls, oxygen systems), Carleton Technologies (oxygen), CTT Systems (humidification, anti-condensation), Diehl (lighting), Honeywell (air conditioning), Panasonic (IFE), Recaro (seats) and Rockwell Collins (communications, including Inmarsat SwiftBroadband satcoms and gatelink).
The public got its first glimpse of Airbus’ ideas for the A350 cabin at last year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. A full-scale mock-up showed straight sidewalls providing more room at head and shoulder level, and larger, pivoting overhead luggage bins. Also presented was a novel D-shaped galley designed to provide more comfort and space for cabin crew and accommodate four more trolley units that the 17 possible with a conventional “C” layout.
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