THE MIDNIGHT oil is most definitely burning in Toulouse and Montreal, as Airbus and Bombardier work against the clock to get their newest airliners airborne and established in their respective flight test programmes. Both the A350, which is receiving the finishing touches following a soft “roll-out”, and the CS100, which is in the last stages of final assembly, are scheduled to take to the air before the end of the second quarter of 2013. Having fallen behind their original programmes by approximately six months, the manufacturers are eager to repair their reputations subsequent to the damage caused by the announcement of delays.
Significant milestones have yet to be reached before MSN001 and FTV-1 take to the skies. Following final assembly, painting and engine attachment, the prototypes must have all their fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems tested. These three main perimeters are then brought together in the final tests where artificially simulated conditions trick the aircraft into believing it is flying to test control surface responses and effectiveness. These ground tests are expected to take between 6-10 weeks, meaning the latest either aircraft should begin such tests (in order to meet a June deadline) is roughly mid-April.
The A350 has taken the lead; latest reports suggest MSN001 will receive a pair of Rolls Royce Trent XWBs in the coming days. Airbus’ newest widebody was rolled out of the assembly hangar in early December. It is now having more test equipment installed. A step-by-step video illustrating this process can be seen here. Latest reports suggest that the airliner will begin ground testing in early April, however a cautious statement from CEO Fabrice Bregier called the plans “not easy, but reachable” suggesting a further time penalty may be incurred.
Bombardier’s FTV-1 has now had all major sections assembled, having received its empennage just before the new year. It remains in the assembly hangar, where it was initially scheduled to leave in late November. Alleged issues with the integration of the fly-by-wire system have resulted in the prototype being held back longer than intended from its roll out. The latest press releases have now confirmed that a June first flight date is now being pursued, erasing previous hopes of an earlier date in late March.
Despite setbacks, the end is in sight for Airbus and Bombardier. As with the introduction of any leading edge technology, both manufacturers have had their projects scrutinised by customers and analysts alike. The A350 and CS100 serve very different markets however the proximity of their test programmes makes for an interesting comparison of the way these products are introduced, not least to see which will cross the finishing line first.