#15 - Quick news - March 2017 | Airbus, Commercial Aircraft
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#15 - Quick news - March 2017

1. PROGRAMMES & PRODUCT NEWS

A350-1000 completes extreme cold weather testing in Iqaluit

Three years after the A350-900’s visit, the new A350-1000 MSN071 test aircraft returned from a successful cold-weather trial to Iqaluit, Canada, during which the aircraft underwent five days of intensive testing at outside air temperatures of between -28° and -32°C, and dropping as low as -37°C during an overnight cold soaking. The aircraft and systems were operated under conditions that reflected normal operations and beyond. Fully satisfactory and successful behaviours were demonstrated over the course of the ground and flight tests performed, consolidating the already proven maturity and reliability of the A350 XWB Family. Cold weather trials are one of the most difficult testing environments for an aircraft. Shortly after returning from these cold weather tests, the aircraft embarked to La Paz in Bolivia to demonstrate its ability to land and take off at this high-altitude airport. 

All three A350-1000 flight test aircraft (MSN059, MSN071 and MSN065) are engaged in the ongoing Type Certification campaign, during which the aircraft will be pushed to extreme limits well beyond what they should ever face during normal in-service operations. Overall the A350-1000’s ‘non-stop’ flight test campaign is on track, its fuel efficiency in line with predictions, and is benefitting from the maturity of the in-service A350-900.

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Digitalization underway for A320 design and installation – from 2D drawings to full 3D visualisation

Since its entry into service in 1988, the A320 Family has seen numerous operational improvements, from Sharklets to more-efficient engines and optimised navigation systems. Now, its design and production processes are also becoming state-of-the-art: Airbus’ “Single-Aisle End-to-End 3D” project currently underway will soon phase-out the use of 2D paper drawings in design and production work for the A320 Family. As well as supporting the programme’s ongoing production rate increase, the migration from 2D drawings to 3D will also allow for easier and greater product customisation, especially in the cabin, and will increase flexibility regarding changes in production or requests by customers. Moreover, it will become much easier to visualise parts and systems and the associated interfaces when they are in 3D.

Initially, the project will focus on ‘cabin-to-cabin’ and ‘cabin-to-fuselage’ interfaces. Cabin-to-cabin interfaces include items such as seats, galleys, lavatories and overhead bins. Cabin-to-fuselage interfaces include air, water and electrical systems plus structures. 3D drawings will feature 'enhanced data', including tolerances and full ‘x, y and z’ installation coordinates throughout the design and production processes. During this year, shop floor employees will receive training on using 3D-equipped tablets. When fully deployed in 2019, stakeholders, from Design Office and Manufacturing Engineering to Quality and customers, will be able to access a single, common 3D reference for the A320 Family where cabin-to-cabin and cabin-to-fuselage integration is concerned. This project promises many benefits: lower costs, shorter lead-times, and reduced workloads plus easier monitoring, interactive data flows, and less duplication. In short, Single-Aisle End-to-End 3D is a key enabler for driving digitalization.

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A380 passenger volume at Heathrow expected to reach 12 per cent in 2017

Airbus expects that A380 passenger volume at Heathrow will reach 12 per cent in 2017. This is in line with the year-on-year increase of A380 passengers at Heathrow – which is one of the world’s busiest airports. Figures for the year 2016, recently released by Heathrow Airport, showed that as many as 10 per cent of all passengers who travelled through the facility arrived or departed on an A380. That equates to more than seven million passengers, and represents an increase from eight per cent in 2015 and six per cent in 2014. The world’s flagship airliner is being utilised in service to and from the airport by British Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways. These aircraft fly to 14 destinations from the London-area facility, including Los Angeles, Singapore and Dubai.

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Qantas boosts A380 MRO operations in the USA

A380 operations in the USA recently received a boost when Qantas unveiled its new engineering facility at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It is one of the largest commercial hangars in North America and the first specifically designed to accommodate the Airbus A380. The 5.7 hectare site will be used to carry out maintenance checks on A380s (and other Airbus and non-Airbus types) during ground time in Los Angeles. With 50% more space than the airline's previous LAX hangar, the facility has the capacity for four A380s to be worked on simultaneously. Its higher capacity is expected to cut the time it takes to carry out maintenance tasks by about 20%.

Features of the new hangar include ‘mega-doors’ constructed from a translucent material which admit natural light through when the doors are closed, plus skylights in the roof. A larger spare parts facility includes two vertical lifts, enabling parts to be delivered to engineers quickly. Aircraft docking access includes an adjustable tail-dock capable of supporting multiple aircraft types, while two aircraft parking pads with walkways directly connect the aircraft doors to the workshop mezzanine level.

A380 A-checks interval raised from 750 to 1,000 flight hours, included in latest A380 MRBR revision

Qantas' investment in A380 operations (story above) comes on top of Airbus' own efforts to improve A380 maintenance: thanks to the work done by Airbus Customer Service teams, ‘A-checks’ intervals on the A380 can now be set at 1,000 Flight Hours instead of 750 previously, which translates into two additional days of availability per aircraft per year. This enhancement comes with the publication of the latest A380 Maintenance Review Board Report (MRBR) revision (no. 8) which was released to the operators in February through the synchronised Scheduled Maintenance Data Package (SMDP). The SMDP, which has been in place for the past four years, is the synchronisation of all Scheduled Maintenance Requirements sources. These comprise: Airworthiness Limitation Sections (ALS parts: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5); the MRBR; the Maintenance Planning Document (MPD) and the Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM). Historically, each document was sent to the operators more or less when ready, but then not in a deliberately synchronised way. By having these various constituent documents synchronised, it makes things simpler for all – as has been confirmed by operator feedback.

2. INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY

Airbus’ R&T team creates the first single-piece composite centre-wing box

Airbus has created the first-ever single-piece composite centre wing box (CWB) – representing an important evolution of this vital structural component that provides support and rigidity for an aircraft’s wings. The CWB was manufactured in ‘one shot’ at Airbus’ “Technocentre” in Nantes, a facility equipped with advanced manufacturing technologies and is open to other companies.

Building on its experience with large aircraft composite wing box technology (eg. as on the A380, A400M and A350), Airbus’ latest 0.65-scale single-piece experimental part was designed by Research and Technology (R&T) teams at the company’s Toulouse and Nantes facilities in France as an upgrade to conventional multi-part centre wing boxes (hitherto composed typically up to eight individual pieces), with advantages of the new version including a 20 per cent reduction in manufacturing costs thanks in part to reduced assembly workload. Furthermore, the new part fully leverages the very latest advances in composite technologies, including the moulding of complex parts combined with continuous fibre. This makes it easier to assemble, and provides improved load-bearing properties due to simpler effort flows. The initiative, which has already demonstrated its feasibility, was assisted by external partners, including Structil and JAMCO, both developers of ‘pre-form’ production technology; and carbon fibre lay-up specialist Coriolis. The teams’ next objective is to prepare the single-piece composite centre wing box for industrialisation using a full-scale demonstrator.

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Work underway on Airbus Wing Integration Centre in Filton, UK

Construction of the new Airbus Wing Integration Centre (AWIC) in Filton, UK is now underway. When complete, the centre will accommodate around 250 employees in total. The facility will bring together the Material Process and Test team, Research and Airbus Group Innovations into one single facility. When this partially UK-Government-funded £40 million centre opens its doors in 2018, it will welcome skilled engineers – who between them will explore the best materials, manufacturing and assembly techniques available, as well as new emerging technologies in aerodynamics and wing architecture.

The centre will also be the working station for Airbus Group Innovations, where a team will focus primarily on emerging technologies. The new facility will also enable a faster and more economical approach to structural testing. Within this scope, wing research and development projects draw focus from five key areas – design, fuel systems, landing gear, systems integration and manufacture. A unique aspect to the facility will be the 'open door' policy which will allow external organisations to attend the centre and make use of the equipment and laboratory space, encouraging a collaborative approach to innovation between Airbus and its partners.

Airbus develops fully automated drilling technology at Bremen, Germany

Airbus is developing a new, fully-automated drilling technology to significantly enhance the drilling of rivet holes in aircraft structural components. The new technology’s first demonstrator will be installed at Airbus’ Bremen, Germany, facility in 2017. This latest drilling innovation, undertaken within the framework Airbus’ R&T activities and a beneficiary of German Government funding, introduces an electrical vibration spindle in an industrial robot for the first time. Using this new technology, holes are drilled automatically, with a superposed oscillation pattern moving the drill bit in and out of the material several times per tool rotation. This cyclic movement allows each chip to fracture into shorter pieces, which can then be extracted without residue – in contrast with today’s manual or semi-automatic techniques.

The fully-automated electrical vibration drilling offers many advantages over conventional methods, including up to a 50 per cent reduction in processing time for thick material packages with titanium. Tooling wear and tear, concessions and burr formation around the holes are significantly reduced due to the lower temperatures generated using this new method, while magnetic bearings eliminate the need for drill spindle maintenance. By year-end, a fully-automated articulated robot system with a magnetically-levitated drill spindle should be producing rivet holes in wing flaps at the Bremen site for A330s and A350 XWBs. Further in the future the technology will also be rolled out to other national and transnational production lines.

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Airbus completes new additive manufacturing facility at Airbus’ Filton facility

Preparation has been completed at Airbus’ Filton UK site for a new additive manufacturing (AM) / 3D printing facility, one of a small number of such facilities across Airbus. The new facility at Filton has two temperature and humidity-controlled rooms housing two cutting-edge machines – one using Arcam’s electron-beam technology and another using Renishaw’s latest laser melting platform. Before any AM parts are used on its aircraft, Airbus will master the AM process and understand every aspect of production, both to satisfy the regulatory authorities and to ensure consistency in the supply chain. This qualification work is one of the activities which will be carried out in the new facility. Batches of additively-manufactured specimens produced on these machines are already being tested as part of a series of trials to demonstrate that they meet the design requirements. Initially there will be no change to fit, form or function of the components being qualified as a first step towards the goal of design optimisation of aircraft parts to take full advantage of AM technology, leading to weight and cost reductions.

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Airbus forges industrial partnerships with Japan

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) and France’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC), with the consent of Airbus, have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) in civil aviation industry. This latest accord aims to further reinforce the cooperation between Airbus and Japanese industry. To this end, an Airbus-Japan commercial aviation working group will be established to study and evaluate various technologies such as new materials, aircraft systems, equipment and manufacturing technologies – for possible application in future aircraft. Airbus, which sees Japan as a key partner in areas such as future aircraft technologies, R&T and digital innovation, is committed to further expanding its industrial footprint in Japan.

3. OPERATIONS & SERVICES

Staff training now underway for Tianjin’s new A330 Completion and Delivery Centre

Chinese employees for the new A330 Completion & Delivery Centre (C&DC) in Tianjin are now undergoing training to prepare them for the arrival in the second half of 2017 of the first of many A330s. Construction of the facility is now underway (‘Photo1’ link below). Following the inauguration later this year (architect’s rendering – ‘Photo2’ below), the ‘green’ aircraft will be ferried from Toulouse and will be successively processed thorough the stages of acceptance, cabin installation, painting, flight-line preparation and final delivery operations. The C&DC will be located close to the A320 Final Assembly Line (FAL).

A major component in the success of this project is the recruitment and training of local Chinese teams. This is being performed in two stages: first in Toulouse, where 120 Chinese employees are being hosted and trained, then in Tianjin, where approximately 110 people will join this workforce. On average these training courses will last around seven months and concern not only operators but also supervision and support functions.

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Loong Air becomes the first airline with Airbus Head-Up Display (HUD) retrofit

Loong Air, one of fast growing operators in China, has become the first A320 operator worldwide to install the Airbus Head-Up Display (HUD) retrofit solution onto its aircraft. The first aircraft to receive the upgrade has recently been released to service in Beijing, China. The aircraft was retrofitted with the HUD on the Captain’s (left) side of the cockpit to fulfil operational needs. The integrated solution provided to Loong Air includes Airbus Service Bulletins, retrofit materials (kits and equipment) and the embodiment service with direct involvement of an Airbus team in the working party. Such an integrated solution combines core competences of “Services by Airbus” and addresses market needs while ensuring Airbus’ quality standards, as the original aircraft manufacturer.

Asiana Airlines and Airbus sign A380 Full Flight Simulator agreement in Singapore

Airbus Asia Training Centre (AATC) in Singapore has signed an agreement with South Korea's Asiana Airlines for the use of an A380 Full Flight Simulator. The agreement covers the training of Asiana Airlines' flight crew by the carrier's instructors on the state-of-the-art Airbus A380 simulator located at AATC. This partnership answers the airline's flight crew training needs to operate its six A380s currently in service. Asiana Airlines is not only Airbus’ first Korean customer at the training centre, but it is also one of the first customers for the A380 Full-Flight-Simulator. Today 28 airlines have already signed up to undertake training at AATC, most of them based across the Asia-Pacific region.

Airbus signs MoU with Taiwan’s China Airlines to develop its Maintenance, Engineering and Training capabilities

Airbus has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China Airlines (CAL) to support the development of the airline’s maintenance, engineering and technical training capabilities in Taiwan. Under the MoU, Airbus and CAL will evaluate technical and business solutions to develop the carrier’s services for all Airbus aircraft types currently operated by the airline, which include the A350 XWB, A330/A340, and A320 families.

The companies will also jointly evaluate and promote CAL’s retrofit activities and cabin and airframe modifications, the feasibility of approving the airline’s maintenance training centre and developing its maintenance training capabilities in Taiwan ranging from ‘ab-initio’ programmes to courses for mechanics. In addition, they will evaluate the benefits of Satair Group and other Airbus affiliates becoming key parts providers for CAL.

Jet Aviation Dubai joins Airbus’ growing ACJ service centre network

Jet Aviation's maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities in Dubai will join the ACJ Service Centre network, adding to the choice of Airbus-approved facilities around the world for ACJ customers and operators. Its Basle facilities became part of the ACJ Service Centre Network earlier this year. The expanded network comprises companies which are owned or controlled by Airbus, as well as independent ones which it has approved. Its capabilities include line and heavy maintenance, cabin-refurbishing, and cabin and system upgrades.

The ACJ Service Centre network now comprises: Comlux America in Indianapolis; HAECO Private Jet Solutions in Xiamen; Jet Aviation in Basle and Dubai; Sepang Aircraft Engineering (SAE) in Kuala Lumpur; a­­­­nd ST Aerospace in Singapore. It will grow to include others over time.

Airbus goes to all-online digital distribution of its technical data manuals

In its onward quest for enterprise-wide digitalization, Airbus is phasing out physical media such as optical CD/DVD discs for the distribution of aircraft technical data manuals – which are used by airline operators and MROs. This is in recognition of the fact that online delivery is by far the swiftest means of conveying technical data to customers for their maintenance and flight safety operations. To facilitate this, Airbus has reinforced its content delivery network to meet customer requirements. This now comprises some 60,000 integrated servers which work together for providing online technical data services to customers around the globe.

As well as considerably reducing the risk of encountering obsolete data, this migration to purely online media – accessible via the ‘AirbusWorld’ customer portal – will be a boon for the environment too: Last year, the company delivered more than 250,000 CDs to customers. By no longer having to ship all these physical plastic discs, the company expects to save the need to produce a pile equivalent to the height of the Taj Mahal in India, Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben in London and Paris’ Arc de Triomphe – all stacked on top of each other. Furthermore, a large reduction in CO2 emissions is also expected – equivalent to 730 one-way flights between Beijing and Paris for one passenger.

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