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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

17 Jul 06. In his first press conference as Airbus President and CEO, Christian Streiff gave a very ‘French’ explanation to the huge problems surrounding Airbus and the A380 in particular.

He opened the Press Conference, which was, after twenty five years attending air shows, the most packed I have ever witnessed, to say that he was not interested in the past merely to mend fences with his customers and forge new management changes at Airbus. Even when pushed by CNN at the end to explain what actually went wrong at Airbus, he would not be pushed, just to say that he was not interested in the past.

But, what became abundantly clear was that, as BATTLESPACE has suggested in the past, the problem is far more than just a wiring loom delay, it is one of a management culture gone wrong from supply chain management delays to production bottlenecks.

“I arrived two weeks ago in a kind of vertical take-off mode, with a lot of noise and speed; my job now is to bring everyone back to a form of active serenity. We have a critical situation which will be worked through rapidly but not in haste.”

He explained that he had had discussions with his two largest customers ILFC and Singapore Airlines who appeared happy with his progress.

“We will regain confidence in our customers and shareholders and bring the company back to basics.” This hinted that the arrogance of Airbus witnessed over the years had got out of control and they had left behind management care to replace this with the French verve in beating Boeing to the toss.

He also confirmed that there would be no job losses due to the A380 delays but would not confirm where the composite wing would be built for the A350XWB Extra Wide Body.

Then, like a rabbit out of a hat, John Lehay, produced the specification for the new A350XWB which Streiff said would be formally launched in three months.

“I want this company to get back to its basics,” Streiff said in a statement. “Based on previous lessons learned, the A350 XWB brings Airbus back into the game and will be a success.”

The new model is designated A350 XWB for extra wide body and Lehay is promising the new jet will offer increased speed, increased range and lower operating costs than other aircraft. The A350 XWB will enter service in 2012.

The previous A350 design was losing the battle of the order books to Boeing’s 787. Boeing has won 360 firm orders for the 787 compared to only 100 for the A350. The 787 is scheduled to enter service in 2008.

Airbus North America Engineering Inc.’s Wichita facility had been designing part of the wing and cabin for the previous A350. Airbus officials have not commented on how much of that work will be used in the new A350 XWB.

One question asked whether Airbus had taken its eye off the ball to develop the A380 at the expense of all other models. Certainly the ease by which the A350XWB was described and the fact that the company had managed to beat Boeing’s 787 in all areas of fuel consumption, noise, speed, comfort and space gave the audience more of the feel that this would be a replay of the A380 puff several years ago and that in actuality Airbus has a huge engineering challenge ahead of it to stay in the game. Nothing was said of the A400M but if, as Streiff hinted that the problems are more management based than faulty assembly, what problems lie in store for the A400M with its massive 10000HP engines, which are already believed to be causing concern for refuelling modes and parachute drops.

Can Airbus stretch its engineering capabilities right across the board from revamping A340 (another type not mentioned0 refining A400M, building A350XWB and solving the bottlenecks on A380? If it can, it will need a lot less joie de vivre and more actual hard explanations and management than the evasive words and statements given today.

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