Airbus says A350 risk minimized as first flight looms

Thu Jun 6, 2013 1:26pm EDT
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By Cyril Altmeyer and Tim Hepher

TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - European planemaker Airbus has vowed to avoid the problems which led to the grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner as the clock ticks towards a maiden flight seen as barely one week away.

Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier said Airbus had focused on reducing technical risk in its costliest ever development project, drawing an implicit contrast with battery problems that led to the 787's three-month grounding earlier this year.

"This aircraft is mature with limited technology risks ... and I have no appetite at all to launch a grounded aircraft," Bregier said in a major annual briefing at Toulouse, France.

The A350 looks on course to fly by the end of next week but preparations could be overshadowed by a possible air traffic controllers' strike. Several French unions have warned of possible strikes from the middle of next week, authorities said.

Airbus EAD.PA can operate from its Toulouse headquarters without public controllers, but a strike could hamper plans to fly in a large media and VIP contingent for the first maiden sortie of a new Airbus jet since the A380 superjumbo in 2005.

Airbus declined to elaborate on the date of the first flight, which depends on a final decision from test crew once they have completed a series of ground trials.

Weather is also a factor amid 7-day forecasts of scattered thunderstorms. Although the aircraft, 53-percent built from carbon-fiber, is designed to withstand lightning strikes, that is something pilots will want to avoid on day one.

"For the first flights we play it very conservatively," said Frank Chapman, an Airbus experimental test pilot.   Continued...

A model of an Airbus A350 passenger plane is displayed at a news conference in Hong Kong, March 7, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip