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Originally published June 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 28, 2007 at 4:15 PM

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787 partners may play key role in rival's A350

Airbus will select the first major industrial partners for building its A350 jet by the end of next month, and all 10 to 15 of the main...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

PARIS — Airbus will select the first major industrial partners for building its A350 jet by the end of next month, and all 10 to 15 of the main airframe partners by the end of September, top company executives said Monday at the Paris Air Show.

One of those partners is likely be Spirit AeroSystems which runs the former Boeing parts plant in Wichita, Kan., and supplies the cockpit and forward fuselage of the Dreamliner.

Basking in the glow of orders worth almost $35 billion at list prices at the Paris Air Show, Airbus executives said they are advancing rapidly with plans for the design and manufacture of the new A350 jet, which will compete head-to-head against Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and also its 777 jet.

Interviewed at the edges of the press conferences, Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois and chief commercial officer in charge of sales, John Leahy, each added detail on the A350 plans.

Gallois said Airbus wants its partners to be part of the design process, just like Boeing's partners on the Dreamliner project.

"They will be completely involved in the development of the airplane," Gallois said, "We are going fast and we need them with us."

Gallois said that the decision on the largest partners to help build the A350 airframe is tied to the sale of three of its European plants.

Airbus plants at Filton in the U.K., Meault in France and Nordingham in Germany will be sold, he said, and the buyers will be brought in as A350 partners. Those partners will be chosen by the end of July.

"We will decide the same time the partner for the aerostructures and the buyer of the site. It will be the same," he said. "These partners will have to invest in these three sites to shift from metal to (carbon-fiber-based plastic) composites."

The U.K. plant will produce the A350 wings, the French plant the nose and forward fuselage, and the German plant other parts of the fuselage, he said.

Spirit Aerosystems has put in a bid for several of the plants that are for sale. Gallois said Spirit is likely to be one of the partners.

He said Spirit could participate not by building A350 parts at the former Boeing plant, but by taking over one of Airbus' European plants.


"Spirit is also a partner to take over some sites in Europe and to invest in Europe," Gallois said.

"We don't want to make our airplanes in the States," he elaborated, "We are ready to have a big (parts work) share in the States, but we need also to have industrial capacity in Europe."

Some of the work of building Airbus' large aerostructures nevertheless could go overseas.

"For aerostructures, for the time being we are focused on Europe, China, Russia, Korea, India, and other emerging countries, not the States," he said.

He said Messier-Dowty has already been selected to supply the A350's landing gear. Messier-Dowty supplies the same part on the Dreamliner.

Gallois said China and Russia will each get 3 to 5 percent of the A350 work.

Top Airbus salesman Leahy said the basic design of the A350 will be frozen at the end of this month and the detailed definition frozen next year.

That means, he said, that the planemaker is still working the detailed parts but has largely settled the overall specifications. Leahy said the percentage of the airplane made from composite plastic may increase as the parts analysis proceeds.

Leahy said that he didn't understand why his best customer — Steve Udvar-Hazy, chief executive and founder of the world's biggest aircraft lessor, International Lease Finance Corp (ILFC) — had told the press that the A350 design wasn't solid enough.

"I was talking to (Hazy) last Friday and I think now he understands exactly where the airplane is," Leahy said.

The A350 won't debut until 2013, five years later than the Dreamliner. But with so many 787s sold, the first available delivery slots are now five years out.

At apress conference by Emirates airline, president Tim Clark said that "the gap (between the 787 and the A350) has closed both in terms of availability and specification."

Clark reiterated that he prefers the Boeing approach to the building of its airplane — constructing the fuselage in huge tubular single-piece sections — over the Airbus approach of making it from large composite panels.

The Boeing method is "the future," Clark said.

But he said Emirates could accept the Airbus approach if convinced that the airplane is better for its needs in terms of size and range and reliability.

Emirates is still weighing a big order for as many as 100 of either the 787 or the A350.

The A350 increasingly looks like a serious competitor to the Dreamliner.

U.S. Airways senior vice president Andrew Nocella said after his press conference that the two planes "stack up very similarly."

His airline decided that the slightly larger of the two was the one they wanted.

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