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A350XWB, the Plane Airbus Did Not Want To Build, Makes Maiden Flight 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the tell-me-about-the-wifi dept.
McGruber writes "The BBC reports that the Airbus A350XWB (extra wide body) has made its first flight. Like the Boeing 787, the A350 offers airlines the chance to combine long-range services with improved fuel efficiency. The A350's fuselage is made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, while many other parts of the aircraft use titanium and advanced alloys to save weight. It also has state-of-the-art aerodynamics, and engine manufacturer Rolls Royce has produced a new custom-designed power unit. Airbus claims that all of this means the A350 will use 25% less fuel than the current generation of equivalent aircraft. It also points out that noise and emissions will be well below current limits."
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A350XWB, the Plane Airbus Did Not Want To Build, Makes Maiden Flight

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  • It's hard to get excited about a plane that exists only in response to another, and was then a victim of design by committee.

    • If you are talking about the 787 the A350 is not really in the same weight category. The A350 airplane is a lot larger and competes with the 777.

      • While I'm aware of the size difference, the A350 is still a response to the technologies used in the Dreamliner. It's less a direct market competitor than a direct company-to-company statement of "yes, we can build big things from composites too."

  • by pittance (78536) on Friday June 14, 2013 @03:46PM (#44011059) Homepage

    Does any manufacturer really want to design new planes? The engineers do, it's their job & mostly their passion but the shareholders won't want to if they don't have to. Every time you design a new aircraft you commit to billions of investment and lots of risk, both financial and technical.

    The saying I was most often quoted in my aerospace degree "How do you make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune and invest in aerospace".

    The best that you'll probably get is that once it becomes clear that a planned development needs to start that the shareholders decide to go all-out for it, and the rest of the company commit to it 100%.

    • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Friday June 14, 2013 @05:53PM (#44012069)

      My understanding of why they didn't want to do the A350 was because between the A320, A330, and A340, all the service areas covered by this A350 were already covered, and now they have a whole new production line which will only pull sales away from their already-established production lines.

      • by jrumney (197329) on Friday June 14, 2013 @09:14PM (#44012981) Homepage

        My understanding of why they didn't want to do the A350 was because between the A320, A330, and A340, all the service areas covered by this A350 were already covered, and now they have a whole new production line which will only pull sales away from their already-established production lines.

        Right. And the reason they went ahead is that its better to have your own product cannibalizing sales of your already-established products than it is for your competitor to be doing it while you are standing still.

      • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @02:43AM (#44013735)

        My understanding of why they didn't want to do the A350 was because between the A320, A330, and A340, all the service areas covered by this A350 were already covered

        They needed the A350. The 777 [wikipedia.org] has been beating the A340 [wikipedia.org] into a bloody pulp in the market. 1452 orders since 1995 vs 377 orders since 1993. The A340 is a 4-engine plane vs. the 777's 2-engines, and fewer engines is more efficient.

        It's not that Airbus didn't want to do the A350. The original A350 they proposed would've been a slightly upgraded A330 and straight competitor to the 787 (low- to high-200s seating in 3-class arrangement). The airlines didn't want that. They wanted something which could compete with the 777 (low- to high-300s seating in 3-class arrangement), and used the 787's launch as an opportunity to complain and get Airbus to build it for them. So Airbus scrapped their original A350 plans and designed something a little larger like the airlines wanted. The A350 will have high-200s to mid-300s seating, competing with the larger-sized 787 models, and the smaller 777 models.

    • by DaveGod (703167)

      Yes. Even if plane design and manufacture was a 100% monopoly they would still do it.

      - improved "flying experience" for consumers (passengers) may result in more flying and hence more demand for planes.
      - reduced operating costs can result in increased margins for carriers / decreased prices for end consumers and hence increased demand for planes.
      - reduced operating costs can make customers (carriers) willing to pay more per plane as they will recoup that cost over time.
      - releasing a new product may encourag

      • by osu-neko (2604)

        Yes. Even if plane design and manufacture was a 100% monopoly they would still do it.

        Well, yes, but not on the same timescale. In the absence of competition, they'd have just continued pumping out A340's for a couple more decades while making mild investments in research and advancement of the tech until coming out with a replacement two decades later and with half the innovation (the other half would eventually be made... in a couple more decades).

  • Accidental airplane? What happened? Airbus couldn't find a plane sized condom?
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Friday June 14, 2013 @03:58PM (#44011179) Journal
    Who wants to fly in a plane the manufacturer didn't want to build? Way to announce a new product!
  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 14, 2013 @04:01PM (#44011209) Journal
    - The A350 offers airlines the chance to combine long-range services with improved fuel efficiency.
    - The A350's fuselage is made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, while many other parts of the aircraft use titanium and advanced alloys to save weight.
    - It also has state-of-the-art aerodynamics
    - Engine manufacturer Rolls Royce has produced a new custom-designed power unit.
    - The A350 will use 25% less fuel than the current generation of equivalent aircraft, and noise and emissions will be well below current limits.

    Hmm... So, with all those benefits, why didn't Airbus want to build it?
    • Look at the problems Boeing had
      Just because you build it, doesn't mean it's going to work

      • by puppetman (131489)

        Boeing decided to farm out the manufacturing of parts of the plane to various companies around the world. The fuselage was built in Italy, and there were small issues with wrinkles on the surface. The wings were made by Mitsubishi, in Japan, and there were issues with the stringers.

        Who knows if they would have had the same issues with in-house development, but there were lots of quality and logistical issues with building a "global" plane.

        • Just to round off your post, there was also issues with the fuselage sections that came from US suppliers as well, and Boeing had to re-acquire an entire US company that it had previously sold, just so it could resolve the technical and manufacturing issues in that company.

        • by beelsebob (529313)

          You realise that that's exactly how airbus has been building planes for years, and exactly how the A350 XWB will be built too.

          • by MiG82au (2594721)
            You realise that Airbuses were first built by a consortium and now by EADS owned companies around the world? Looking at the 787, it appears to be quite an important difference.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday June 14, 2013 @04:42PM (#44011577)

      Because it cost billions of dollars to develop. You proceed cautiously when there are billions of dollars that could potentially vanish if the design doesn't sell or doesn't work.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Friday June 14, 2013 @04:44PM (#44011597)

      Boeing announced the Boeing 787 right after Airbus committed to the A380 - Airbus was going for the VLA market, which Boeing had dominated since they launched the Boeing 747 in the 70s as they had no effective competition in that particular market segment.

      Once Airbus committed themselves to the VLA segment, Boeing committed itself to the smaller 250 seat segment, in which it already had an aging product in the Boeing 767 - sales of which were rapidly tailing off, and customers were demanding something more efficient.

      Airbus responded by announcing a package of updates to their A330 airliner, but customer demand was poor - a lot of large customers wanted an all new fuselage design (the Airbus A330 and A340, both circa 1990 in vintage, used the same fuselage as the A300, which preceded them by 20 years), and carbon fiber as a primary structural component, so Airbus went back to the drawing board and came up with the A350XWB.

      Its an aircraft that "Airbus didnt want to build" in the same vein as Boeing "didnt want to build" the Boeing 787, as that program only came about after customers outright rejected Boeings Sonic Cruiser concept in the years leading up to the 787s program launch - the 787 uses many of the same technologies (the carbon fiber barrels for the fuselage), and is a direct follow on from a prior program that was rejected by customers.

      Interestingly enough, the Airbus A330, which customers didn't want an updated model of, has sold well over 500 aircraft since that "rejection". You never can tell....

    • by puppetman (131489)

      Way back when Boeing was going for a smaller, more efficient jet. Airbus wanted to build a big plane, aka an Ultra High Capacity Airliner to challenge Boeing's dominance of the large-jet market.

      Boeing built the 787, and Airbus built the A380. I guess the market is now forcing Airbus to compete with Boeing's 787, and thus the a350.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ducomputergeek (595742) on Friday June 14, 2013 @04:54PM (#44011701)

      Because they got blindsided by Boeing. Boeing was publicly showing off their "SST" designs and hinting at a new supersized 747. Meanwhile someone at Boeing was doing their market research and saw the need for a new generation of planes with lower cost per mile for medium/long haul to replace aging fleets of 757, 767, and 777's.

      Airbus was more interested in proving they could "build the biggest plane" more as an ego measure than a design that addressed a real need to their customers (airlines).

      When Boeing announced the 787 they completely caught Airbus off guard as they had just spent billions and a decade on the A380.

      • by reub2000 (705806)

        Since there are way more orders for the A380 than there are for the 747-8, building the biggest plane seems to be more than just about ego.

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          But when you compare the A380 to the 787, the A380 has 262 firm orders at US$403.9 million for a total of ~US$106 billion, while the 787 has 890 orders at a unit cost of US$206.8 or US$243.6 million (depends on which model) for a total of ~US$197 billion (based on specific model orders). It's hard to call the A380 a failure with that sort of revenue, but clearly the demand for something like the 787 was much higher, both in terms of units and revenue.

        • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Chuckstar (799005) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @01:22AM (#44013573)

          Except that Airbus needs to sell way more A380s to pay back development cost than Boeing needs to sell of 747-8s.

          Twelve years after starting sales, Airbus still hasn't broken even on the A380. According to estimates, they need to sell 420 planes to break even. They have orders for 262. Based on recent order history, they are 5-10 years away from hitting that number of orders. But they are 10 years away from delivering that many planes. Basically, it will have taken them well over 20 years just to break even on the plane.

          (Note that Airbus talks about reaching break-even in 2015/2016. But that just represents when they will stop losing money on a current basis on the program. After that point, they still need to pay back all the R&D and negative cash flow incurred to that point.)

          If you read any of the industry news, you'll see that pretty much no one expects Airbus to ever end up with a positive total return on the investment. By the time the design is 20 years old, they'll have to start thinking about investing in modernized upgrades. It won't cost anywhere near as much as the new airframe did, but it'll further push back when they could possibly end up positive on a total return basis.

          Boeing hasn't talked about how many units they need to sell of 747-8 to break even. But that airframe's sales have only been 30% lower per year than A380s. And it was an upgrade, not a completely new design, so development costs were significantly cheaper. No one at Boeing is jumping up and down over those sales. But 747-8 probably has a pretty good chance of providing a positive total return over its lifetime (although maybe only modestly), especially considering its popularity as a freighter. There is no freighter version of the A380.

      • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice@gm a i l.com> on Friday June 14, 2013 @05:06PM (#44011823)

        Airbus wasn't caught off guard, and the A380 was not an ego measure - Boeings new 747 proposals were being rejected by customers at the time as they wanted an all new airframe design which would encompass modern aerodynamic efficiency increases over the 747s 1960s vintage. Go and google the 747-500, -600 and -700 concepts as they all existed on paper. Airbus responded to the market demands by supplying a design for an all new VLA airframe.

        Airbus basically have the VLA market now, as Boeings response, the 747-800, has seen lukewarm reception at best. Airbus thought they could hold their own in the 200 - 350 passenger market segments with the A330 and A340 models, and nterestingy enough the A330 has infact held its own, and continues to sell even as the 787 becomes available.

        Where Airbus did falter was in the top end of the 200 - 350 market, covered by the A340. This was being beaten resoundedly by the Boeing 777, which was launched a decade earlier than the Boeing 787. Airbus are countering the top end of the market with the A350XWB, which will cover the larger 787 variants (-9 and -10) while also covering most of the 777 range as well.

        Airbus is confident enough in the A330 that it doesn't see the need to immediately replace it like for like.

        • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Informative)

          by MtViewGuy (197597) on Friday June 14, 2013 @09:12PM (#44012979)

          Also, Airbus has been continually improving the A330-200 model, which has proved to be VERY popular with many airlines (in fact, Airbus was actually reluctant to build the A330-200 because it feared it would affect A340 sales). The original state range was 6,400 nautical miles, and thanks to the availability of increased mean takeoff weight (MTOW) variants, the A330-200 can now fly nearly 7,200 nautical miles, which means flights as far as San Francisco to Hong Kong non-stop becomes possible.

          The A350XWB-900 carries the same payload as the 777-200ER, but has over 20% lower fuel cost and can fly 8,100 nautical miles, 400 more than the 777-200ER. Small wonder why there's a long list of orders--a list that could grow even longer at the Paris Air Show.

        • by Solandri (704621)

          Airbus wasn't caught off guard, and the A380 was not an ego measure - Boeings new 747 proposals were being rejected by customers at the time as they wanted an all new airframe design which would encompass modern aerodynamic efficiency increases over the 747s 1960s vintage. Go and google the 747-500, -600 and -700 concepts as they all existed on paper. Airbus responded to the market demands by supplying a design for an all new VLA airframe.

          Airbus basically have the VLA market now, as Boeings response, the

      • Tech which they managed to reuse in the A350 like composite construction. If all goes according to plan the A350 is going to launch two years after the 787. So not that bad IMO.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          If all goes according to plan the A350 is going to launch two years after the 787. So not that bad IMO.

          You can't compare actual delivery dates with projected delivery dates. The 787 was delayed by years, but it's out there now. There's even more reason to believe Airbus is vastly over-promising on it's A350 timeline, like Boeing did before it. In particular, to fool clueless people like yourself so they don't look like they're playing catch-up quite so much.

      • by evilviper (135110)

        Because they got blindsided by Boeing. Boeing was publicly showing off their "SST" designs and hinting at a new supersized 747.

        If Airbus' market strategy is to just copy what Boeing is doing (rather than doing actual market research themselves), then they deserve to lose, badly.

        It's one thing to have CHEAP knock-offs come along later, but Airbus can't manage that, so you're just talking about equally expensive imitations.

        • by MiG82au (2594721)
          If you believe the analysis of a slashdotter that confuses the sonic cruiser with a supersonic aircraft (which Boeing considered in the 60s IIRC), you probably should refrain from forming an opinion on this topic.
    • They wanted a low-cost derivative of the A330. The market wanted a new plane. Simple as that.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      They were planning to do an upgrade of an older model, but an influential customer panned the idea and Boeing announced the 787. They decided, reluctantly, to start from scratch with a new deign.

      The headline is really just to grab attention, once they committed to it they pushed hard and their work has paid off in sales.

      • Your order of events is wrong :) Boeing announced the 787, customers demanded a response from Airbus and so they launched the A350 as an updated A330, which customers rejected and so they launched the A350XWB.

        • by MtViewGuy (197597)

          The original A350 proposal sounded too much like a "rehashed" 777-200ER and it's not surprising that the airlines eventually rejected the idea. But Airbus decided to start over with a "clean sheet" airliner with the newest aerodynamic design and a lot of lightweight structural parts--the result is the A350XWB that flew for the first time today.

  • Main page says there's 11 comments, but on the page there isn't any.

  • First Flight

  • 25% less fuel is sure to be passed on as a cost savings to the customer, amiright?

  • First flight?

  • Are article comments in write-only mode again? I can't seriously be the first one here.

  • by asm2750 (1124425) on Friday June 14, 2013 @04:15PM (#44011365)
    Its great to see aircraft builders embrace composites. Although I am curious about how long lived these aircraft bodies will be compared to metal ones.

    It would be cool is rocket builders were the next to use composites for bodies like the high powered rocketry hobby has with carbon fiber but that might be asking for too much since the stresses on large rockets are large.
    • Current understanding suggests they should last longer than AL structures, mostly due to the lack of metal fatigue.

      • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

        by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 14, 2013 @06:15PM (#44012191) Journal
        Yes, there won't be metal fatigue because there isn't any metal to fatigue. However, how well do the glues and resins that hold the plane together handle the vibrational stresses after 5-10 years of service? Plastics tend to get brittle in the cold and when exposed to UV radiation. Well, guess what there's a lot of where the planes fly?
        • These things aren't certified lightly, so I'm confident they're at least as good as previous materials. UV exposure is a non-issue, since the whole plane is covered in several layers of paint. As for vitrifcation of the plastics involved, testing that is relatively easy, so again, no cause for concern.

          The fact that both Boeing and Airbus allow higher cabin pressures in the 787 and A350 also shows how confident they are that composites will work perfectly.

        • You didn't think to point that out before they built it? If it all goes wrong I'm blaming you.

        • by delt0r (999393)
          Military aircraft have been using these materials for some time. There is already quite a bit of service history for them.
      • by Algae_94 (2017070)
        Fatigue is not a phenomena found exclusively in metals. Plastics and composities experience fatigue as well. Take a small piece of plastic like a toothpick and bend it back and forth many times and see what happens. In addition, fatigue is not the only way that a material can fail.

        Unless you have some case studies indicating longer life, you're just guessing.
        • Yes, of course. However, the particular composites used are said not to suffer from fatigue at the stress levels we're talking about. Considering aircraft longevity is mostly tied to metal fatigue due to pressurization (ignoring economic and regulatory issues), the lack of fatigue is a major improvement on paper. It's doubtful that planes will suddenly be used for longer, though.

          • by MiG82au (2594721)
            It's kind of dishonest to say they don't fatigue, because they do through the growth of delaminated areas, which come about easily enough from certain overloads and impacts.
            • Of course it is, that's why I added "at the stress levels we're talking about", meaning typical pressurization cycles. The results of said overloads/impacts has always required an inspection, so it's a matter of inspecting the relevant areas for damage, according to the methods that had to be developed especially for aircraft maintenance.
              Additionally, I can imagine most stuff being designed to minimze the propagation of flaws, like delamination. It sounds easier to me to do so with composites than with a ty

        • by Chuckstar (799005)

          The materials they are using are not new. They just haven't been used heavily in civilian aviation before. There are other concerns with such composites (aluminum doesn't delaminate, for instance) but those concerns are generally well-understood.

        • Except the type of fatigue you are talking about has nothing to do with the type of fatigue airliners experience. Airplane pieces don't normally undergo plastic deformation. CFRP is renowned for it's high-cycle fatigue resistance and is simply not a factor here concerning airframe life.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      Some of my model rockets used carbon fiber. Some of my family are boat builders and hence i have access to small quantities of fiber and resin at reasonable prices. Plenty of others where using fiberglass as the main structural component.

      The biggest problem is heat from the motors. You need to have some good thermal insulation otherwise the epoxy burns.
      • by asm2750 (1124425)
        That's good to know, I've been thinking of using CF or Dyna-wind tubes when I build my rocket for my L2 flight.
        • by delt0r (999393)
          I should say that most of these where in fact amateur rockets. As in we build the motors as well. I suspect a composite motor would be better with keeping the heat where it should be.
  • Here's to hoping they picked a slightly less volatile set of batteries.

    • Prototypes will use Li-Ion batteries, as was originally planned before the 787 incidents, but the final version will use traditional Ni-Cd, at least at first. Later versions may revert to Li-Ion.

  • Why would they not want to build it? With the troubles Boeing is having, it may their best chance at making their name as THE provider of fully functional aircraft.
    • Call it piss poor journalism. It's Airbus' answer to the lukewarm response their originally planned A350 got. They wanted a simple derivative, new engines, refined aerodynamics, maybe greater use of composites, like the A320 NEO or 737MAX. Most airlines bought into Boeing's hype (time will tell if it's more than that) and weren't impressed. So they designed a new one from scratch.

  • the plane airbus did not want to build at the time, as they were busy with the A380

    • by slew (2918)

      the plane airbus did not want to build at the time, as they just blew up their budget on the A380 delay

      FTFY...

      Basically, Airbus's parent company (EADS) simply didn't want to invest that much of their own money on a new development and wanted to pressure the european governments into some sort of financing trick***. That didn't happen, so EADS reluctantly spent their own money on A350XWB development (and basically they have been mostly cash-flow negative since then which really puts a crimp on the value of the executive's stock options).

      *** it's a bit complicated, but because of the WTO dispute with Boeing, t

  • Great headline, mediocre summary. Typical Slashdot.

    Follow the journalistic practice of the inverted pyramid [wikipedia.org]. It's a widespread tradition among news reporters for a reason.

    The headline should tell the whole story. If I wanted, I could read all the headlines in a newspaper and know all the stories. Just not the details.
    The first sentence, the lead [wikipedia.org], should tell the story, a little bit more, perhaps, than the headline, or at least in fully grammatical instead of clipped English. If I wanted, I could read all th

    • by cheros (223479)

      Thanks for that pointer. Just cooking up a website, and it's precisely the structure I was looking for. Thnx again.

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