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A350 first flight good news for US suppliers

Keywords: Tags  airbus sas, A350 XWB, Boing 787, Spirit, UTC, ADI, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — The maiden flight of the A350 on June 14 marked a milestone not only for Airbus SAS but also for a number of major U.S. contractors, among them suppliers of titanium parts and components.

The A350 XWB (extra-wide body), the world’s newest twin-aisle airliner, landed at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France four hours and five minutes after taking off—kicking off about 2,500 hours of test flying with a fleet of five development aircraft in preparation for the model’s entry into service in the second half of 2014.

Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit AeroSystems Inc. is among the A350’s major U.S. suppliers, John Pilla, Spirit’s senior vice president and general manager for Airbus and A350 program management, said in a statement following the flight.

Spirit builds the A350 composite center fuselage section, along with the composite front wing spar, at its facility in Kinston, N.C. Fuselage panels are assembled into a single shipset at Spirit’s facility in Saint-Nazaire, France, then delivered to Airbus. It also builds the fixed leading edges of the aircraft wings at its facility in Prestwick, Scotland. Spirit said it has already delivered six units to Airbus for the A350 XWB program.

Spurred in large part by a move to composites instead of more-traditional aluminum, each A350 airframe contains about 150,000 pounds of titanium buy weight, according to industry estimates. This—as well as the 180,000 pounds of titanium buy weight on the plane’s primary direct competition, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner—has accelerated a requirement in the supply chain for greater titanium machining capacity, due both to aluminum’s reported compatibility problems with composites and the need for a material with a greater strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum in order to support lighter composite structures.

Aerospace Dynamics International Inc. (ADI), Valencia, Calif., last fall launched a 40-percent increase in its titanium machining capacity with a $90-million expansion to support its work on both the A350 and 787. The investment includes 10 machines valued at close to $45 million, two of which have already been delivered, an ADI spokesman said.

ADI’s titanium role on the A350 includes building the equipped gear beam—a complex assembly in the landing gear deployment mechanism—as well as the underwing pylons, or engine nacelle attach fittings. It also builds door edge frames for Spirit AeroSystems.

"We recognized the need for more titanium machining capacity in the industry," the ADI spokesman said by phone in France, where the company is participating in this coming week’s Paris Air Show.

Among other major U.S. suppliers on the A350 are the UTC Aerospace Systems-Aerostructures unit of United Technology Corp., Chula Vista, Calif. President Marc Duvall said in a statement that the engine housing his operation is making for the A350 is the "largest nacelle system we’ve ever designed and built."

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