Airbus advances A350 freighter production

Airbus A350F. Copyright: Airbus S.A.S 2021 - computer rendering by FIXION - MMS - 2021

Airbus is making headway with the production of its A350 freighter.

The airframer has announced the arrival of the first components from its manufacturing plants in Stade, Bremen, and Varel.

Airbus Aerostructures and Premium Aerotec (PAI) teams have met for the so-called “first metal cuts”, said Airbus.

Melanie Markgraf, ASA A350F project manager, witnessed the production starts at Varel and Bremen live.

“In 2013, I was lucky enough to celebrate the first flight of the A350, together with many other colleagues,” said Markgraf. “Ten years later, it is vital to make one of the biggest evolutions of this fantastic aircraft a reality. Every day, a lot of our colleagues work on exciting and challenging tasks to achieve this goal. With the production start at the Bremen, Stade, and Varel sites, we have taken a major step forward together.” 

Technical insight

At the Stade plant, introducing the A350F will have a big impact on existing fuselage shell production, said Airbus. Additional CFRP (carbon fibre reinforced plastic) bonding jigs will be procured, in particular for the upper shell which will contain a large part of the future cargo door cut-out.

The freighter lower shell is, in principle, similar to  the A350 passenger version. For its first flight and steep take-off tests, the first A350F will be equipped with flight test instrumentation (FTI), requiring substantial reinforcement of the lower shell’s skin laminate. 

The three large CFRP doublers required for this purpose were manufactured by the Stade fuselage shell production organisation using a special process. During the fuselage shell assembly, the doublers will be mounted to the normal outer skin using more than 4,000 additional rivets. 

“Since this process would occupy our automated riveting system for a full week and in order to minimise the impact on the series production process activities, we carried out this assembly work with a small team during the summer break,” explained Thomas Meyn, industrial project manager at the Stade site.

Airbus A350F manufacturing

Airbus A350F manufacturing. Photo: Airbus

The first component referred to as the freighter intercostal has been industrialised at the Bremen plant and is ready for delivery. This component is essential for the frame structure of the forward cargo door, which will be subjected to high loads.

It is only one of roughly 1,400 components that are industrialised at the Bremen plant.

These components are the joining elements between the frames, the skin, and the system connections. Production of the thermoplastic components is one of the crucial factors for the assembly of the freighter.

Premium Aerotec is also responsible for some of the A350F’s major components. With the ‘first metal cut’ (the manufacture of the first machined part) at its Varel site, Premium Aerotec has now launched production of this new aircraft type, said Airbus.

“The detailed parts and subassemblies for section (S) 13/14 will now be delivered to the Nordenham plant, where they will be assembled to form a complete section. For S16/18, the individual shells originate from Augsburg and Stade and the floor structure is produced in Nordenham,” added Airbus.

“After the components have been joined in Hamburg to form the complete sections, both will be transferred to the system installation stage.”

In April, Airbus said the first parts for the A350F Centre Wing Box (CWB) had been produced at Airbus Atlantic in Nantes, France.

But then in May, Airbus moved the entry into service date for the A350 freighter into 2026.

In June this year, the livery of the very first aircraft was unveiled during the Paris Air Show.

Airbus said it has received 39 firm orders for the A350F version since its launch in July 2021. 

Previous A350F aircraft orders include: four from CMA-CGM; seven from Air Lease Corporation; seven from Singapore Airlines; four from Air France; two from Silk Way West Airlines; seven from Etihad Airways; and four from Martinair.

In March, four Airbus A350 freighters were ordered by an undisclosed customer.

First Airbus A350 freighter parts produced

Airbus A350 freighter entry-into-service slips to 2026


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Rebecca Jeffrey

Rebecca Jeffrey
New to aviation journalism, I joined Air Cargo News in late 2021 as deputy editor. I previously worked for Mercator Media’s six maritime sector magazines as a reporter, heading up news for Port Strategy. Prior to this, I was editor for Recruitment International (now TALiNT International). Contact me on: [email protected]