Airbus decides against A350 rollout ceremony

9 May 2013
By Edd Gent
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The vertical tail wing of the first Airbus A350 seen on the final assembly line in Toulouse last October

The vertical tail wing of the first Airbus A350 seen on the final assembly line in Toulouse last October

Airbus has started painting the A350 but has decided against a traditional "rollout" for its newest jet.

Airbus seems to have bowed to the increasingly pragmatic mood of an industry sobered by delays and technical mishaps, by deciding against the sort of fanfare seen eight years ago for the launch of the A380 superjumbo, an industry.

The first coat of paint in Airbus livery should be ready on the A350 next week, people familiar with the project say.

After that, the high-tech carbon-composite jet will be all dressed up with nowhere to go until the first flight, which most industry sources expect in late June or early July.

The lack of pomp reflects growing emphasis on project "execution" after Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturers endured multiple delays and problems culminating in the three-month grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner earlier this year.

Asked recently whether Airbus would hold an A350 rollout ceremony, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier told Reuters: "Probably not. We'll go straight to our first flight."

For years, aerospace manufacturers have vied to produce lavish rollouts to show off their latest creations, seen as an important step in the marketing of a new plane.

Airbus and Boeing threw giant parties for the A380 superjumbo and 787 Dreamliner, but the celebrations turned into a costly hangover when both projects were later delayed. Boeing was criticised for displaying a partially completed shell.

"The rollout concept perhaps became a bit devalued by the presentation of an empty 787 with the wrong fasteners and no cockpit," says Agency Partners analyst Nick Cunningham.

"Historically, rollouts have been a great way of raising the profile of a new airliner. But it is understandable if Airbus feels that a first flight event can serve that purpose more effectively," says Andrew Doyle, Editor of Flight Daily News.

With Airbus already describing the A350 schedule as "challenging", the company is also seen as wary of giving customers the impression it is being distracted – having held an inauguration for the A350 assembly plant just six months ago.

The outspoken chief executive of Qatar Airways, the jet's launch customer, has criticised Airbus and Boeing over delays and said this week the 787 grounding had cost it $200m.

The jet’s first flight's timing may disappoint enthusiasts hoping to see the jet, developed at an estimated $15bn, at the Paris air show on June 17-23.

Bregier has said he will not be tied to PR deadlines after slowing the project to weed out any glitches. Airbus says the A350 will enter service on time, however, in mid-2014.

The CSeries jet, rolled out by Canada's Bombardier in March, is also expected to miss the Paris show, which is likely to be dominated by a return of popular Russian fighter displays.

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