Airbus keeps tight rein on cabin design as A350 launch nears

HAMBURG Mon Apr 7, 2014 10:18am EDT

1 of 8. An Airbus A350 XWB flight-test aircraft is towed during a media-day at the German headquarters of aircraft company Airbus in Hamburg-Finkenwerder, April 7, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

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HAMBURG (Reuters) - European planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA) unveiled on Monday the first cabin for its new twin-engined airliner, the A350 XWB, vowing to avoid a repeat of the delays caused by cabin design changes on its bigger A380 super jumbo.

Airbus delivered the first A380 two years late, hit by delays stemming from a surge in demand for customized interiors and problems installing electrical wiring harnesses.

Executives said on Monday the first A350, Airbus's widebody rival to Boeing's (BA.N) 787 Dreamliner, was still on track to be delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways at the end of this year, with certification in the autumn.

While it is offering customization options, such as a choice of seats and LED lighting, of which there are 16.7 million different colors on offer, Airbus is hoping its new customization centre in Hamburg plus a catalogue of specific options will reduce potential delays.

Suppliers are also certified ahead of being included in the catalogue, another measure to prevent delays.

"It's enabling us to keep an eye on the industrial rampup," Chris Emerson, senior vice-president of marketing, told Reuters, while standing in front of the first test A350 to be fitted with a passenger interior.

"We don't want a repeat of the issue where aircraft aren't being able to be delivered because we're waiting for cabin elements," he said.

Emerson added that the tighter control over customization meant the aircraft's residual value would hold up better when it came to the re-sale market.

"A high level of customization is a value-destroyer, especially on the wide bodies," Robert Korn, co-founder of investor Apollo Aviation, which acquires mid-life and mature aircraft, said at a conference earlier this year.

For example, Emerson said, the cabling on the A350's in-flight entertainment system allows each seat to be moved by four inches, thus saving costly re-wiring should a new owner of a plane wish to reconfigure seat spacing.

BAGGAGE SPACE FOR ALL

Emerson said the A350 was six months away from entry into service, and was already in the final assembly line stage. Plus the cabin definition was locked in place and suppliers were now delivering equipment, he said.

"With the A380 we weren't in that situation - we had a delay for the customization and designing of the first cabin," he said.

At present, it takes customers around 20 months to design their cabin interiors for the A350. Emerson said the aim was to get this down to just under a year once production is in full-swing. That compares with a current time frame of 18 months for the larger A380.

Airline customers spend two weeks at the new design center in Hamburg at the start of the cabin design process, making choices regarding seat spacing, fabrics, lighting, lavatory locations and even how many coffee machines to have on board.

The center allows customers to see mock-ups of cabins and create 3D digital images, something which Airbus hopes will reduce last-minute design changes.

Responding to queries as to whether there was enough choice for airlines, Didier Nasarre, head of the A350 program, said the catalogue was continually evolving and had already doubled in size in the last year.

Airbus has won orders for 812 of the jets, which can seat between 276 and 369 passengers, up to the end of March.

The new aircraft is 6 inches wider than the rival Boeing 787 and new baggage bins mean that even if every single passenger carried on a suitcase there would be enough space for all, Airbus says.

(Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Cyril Altmeyer; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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