The Airbus A350-900’s entry into service (EIS) has been delayed again, this time because of late arriving center fuselage panels. In its third quarter 2011 earnings release, Airbus parent EADS confirmed that EIS of the aircraft now is scheduled for the first half of 2014. Airbus booked a €200 million ($273 million) charge for the program in the third quarter.

According to Didier Evrard, head of the A350 program, the pacing item causing the delay is the late arrival of center fuselage panels at the final assembly line. Those panels are produced by Spirit Aerosystems in its Saint Nazaire plant. “The center fuselage panels will arrive by the end of the month, the spread between (the first items arriving) and this has been wider than planned,” he said.

But Evrard also pointed out that the center fuselage is one of the most complex pieces and also requires the longest lead time in the pre-final assembly process. “This is not only about suppliers, but it is also about complexity,” he said.

Industry sources claim the program is now more than three months behind its planned schedule and final assembly will not start before the beginning of 2012. Airbus did not specify the timing, but the aircraft could now be up to six months late. First flight is also moving significantly into the first half of 2013. The time span planned for flight tests has not changed and still is at “a good year.” However, Evrard says that the new planning “gives us a little more headroom to manoeuvre. We have more room to optimize.”

The schedule slip was not unexpected and is likely to be poorly received by customers. Airbus announced delays of 18 months to two years for the later versions, the A350-1000 and A350-800, which are now expected to be delivered in 2017 and 2016, respectively. That decision was mainly to allow more time for Rolls-Royce to upgrade the Trent XWB engine and to free up engineering resources for the A350-900.

The -900 shift is particularly significant, as some customers like Emirates are currently considering moving their orders from the larger -1000 to the baseline version.

The company also announced that it is terminating the A340 program, which has not seen any sales recently. All of the 246 Airbus A340-200s and -300s are delivered. Airbus lists 133 orders and 129 deliveries for the A340-500/600 program.