Airbus to delay A350 by as much as six months

Airbus handed the Boeing Co. a dabble of good news Thursday: The European jet maker is delaying its A350 by as much as six months.

“Each delay of the A350 program and the individual models allows Boeing to recover some breathing room on the 787 program and to develop the 787-9,” local analyst Scott Hamilton, with Leeham Co., wrote in a brief about the delay.

Airbus’ parent company, EADS, announced the schedule slide in its third quarter earnings report. The company took a $273 million charge in the third quarter for the A350 delay.

Airbus likely won’t hand over its first A350 Extra Wide Body jet until 2014, about six months later than previously expected. Like Boeing’s 787, Airbus’ A350 is a mostly composite aircraft. The use of new technology and materials, as well as its dependence on a global supply chain, forced Boeing to delay its 787 by more than three years. Boeing delivered the first Dreamliner jet in September.

The A350 delay will help “to ensure that the aircraft is mature and trouble-free when delivered,” Hans Peter Ring, Airbus’ chief financial officer, said in a conference call with reporters. Airbus also faced challenges with its last all-new aircraft, the A380 super jumbo jet, which was more than two years late.

Ring blamed the A350s delay on a shortage of some parts as well as delays in delivery of some of the aircraft’s composite parts. Airbus will start final assembly of its A350 XWB in the first quarter of 2012. After the aircraft is built, it will enter flight testing and then is scheduled for delivery in the first half of 2014.

“It is our top priority to reach the highest levels of part-readiness before aircraft sections enter our final assembly line in Toulouse,” Didier Evrard, head of the A350 XWB program, said in a statement about the delay. “In this context, the maturity of components will be further enhanced to ensure smooth ramp-up capability.”

Airbus says its A350 XWB will burn 25 percent less fuel than similarly sized aircraft. The jet will challenge Boeing’s 777 as well some versions of the 787.

“The delay of the A350-1000 greatly benefits Boeing as it decides what to do with the future of the 777,” analyst Hamilton noted.

While demand for Boeing’s 777 has remained strong, requests for Airbus’ existing challenger to the 777, the A340, have lagged. EADS announced Thursday that Airbus will no longer build its A340 aircraft.

Airbus hasn’t received an order on the A340 in the past two years and has received just 379 orders over the life of the A340 program. The A340 operates on four engines, compared to the twin-engine 777, which has won 1,295 orders.

EADS expects its revenue to increase by more than 4 percent this year compared to 2010. It also forecast around 1,500 gross orders for Airbus this year. Airbus had 1,231 net orders and 1,372 gross orders at the end of October.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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