If 2013 was the year of two very important first flights, 2014 will have to be an important year of execution: Airbus has committed to delivering the first A350-900, Boeing will hand over the first stretched 787-9, and the first Bombardier CS100 is still officially due for entry into service.

Airbus is facing a crucial 12 months as it enters the second half of the A350-900 flight-test program. Two aircraft, MSN1 and MSN3, are currently performing the tests, which Airbus says have been mostly successful so far. Following an initial phase of handling tests, Airbus has continuously moved into the part of the campaign that is addressing a long list of items required for certification. Three more aircraft are to join the flight-test program—MSN2, MSN4 and MSN5—the first two in February and the last in May. Airbus expects the aircraft to receive its type certificate at the end of August or in early September, a little more than 14 months after first flight. Qatar Airways will then take delivery of the first aircraft in the fourth quarter.

Airbus currently holds 814 firm orders for the A350, the bulk of which (549) are for the baseline A350-900. Meanwhile, Airbus is shifting engineering resources to the stretched A350-1000, due to enter service in 2017. There are 186 firm orders for the -1000, which has seen a notable pick-up in demand. Airbus has pushed back entry into service of the -1000 by almost two years to allow more time for Rolls-Royce to upgrade the engines as demanded by key customers, mainly Persian Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

The future of the smallest version, the A350-800, appears to still hang in the balance. Airbus is officially committed to building the aircraft—the backlog has shrunk to 79 units—but the manufacturer is now hearing from customers that it should seriously consider stretching it to counter the threat posed by the newly launched Boeing 777X. While Airbus is unlikely to make a formal decision next year, 2014 will be a crucial time to prepare for that step.

Airbus is proud that its A330 has been selling so well in recent years, and in fact has outsold the 787 since its launch. But in spite of the launch of the 242-ton version that increased its range, and a regional variant optimized for shorter-haul efficiency, there are indications that the A330 boom may not continue. From January to November 2013, Airbus sold just 48 of the type, compared to the 164 Boeing garnered for the 787.

If that trend continues, Airbus may not only face serious questions about the future of the A350-800, but may also have to take a close look at what it could do do refresh the A330 further. Some of its customers, most notably Air Asia X, have been asking for a reengined version. Since the market success of the A320neo, the concept has gained traction to the extent that Emirates now wants the A380 to be re-engined; so it is clearly an option for the A330, although Airbus has been trying to play down that idea so far.

The formal launch of the 777X at the Dubai Airshow in November marked a watershed for Boeing, which moves from a multi-year period of planning into an intense phase of program execution. The new-generation long-range twin family is the final piece of a 12-year product development plan covering the 150- to 450-plus-seat range with four major models and nine variants.

The go-ahead for the 777X therefore sets the stage for an extremely hectic 2014 for Boeing which, among other systems and airframe design decisions, must still choose a site where the big twin and its all-new composite wing will be assembled. The thorny issue is due to be decided in the first quarter of the year and could see a new phase of Commercial Airplanes' strategic expansion out of Washington state.

Bids from 15 sites—including Huntsville, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Long Beach, Calif.; Salt Lake City, and San Antonio—were due for review around year-end. Despite November's controversial “No” vote by the machinists' union to Boeing's proposals that would keep the 777X at Everett, insiders suggest Washington state is still the most logical site.

Following in the footsteps of the 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10, which was launched in mid-2013, the 777-8X and -9X bridge the gap to the 747-8, partially overlapping with the larger aircraft and providing a twin-engine replacement for 747-400s. The 777X also becomes the heir apparent to the 777-300ER, Boeing's dominant long-haul twin, as well as its principal challenger to the Airbus A350-1000. Boeing will spend most of 2014 completing the overall design and confirming selection of most key suppliers over the first half of the year. Firm configuration will be set in 2015, with detailed design following in 2016 and production beginning in 2017.

The coming year will also be pivotal in the fortunes of the 787 program, with further stabilization of the production line, continued efforts to improve reliability, delivery of the first 787-9s and a stepping-up of design work on the 787-10. Measuring 224 ft. in length, the -10 will be 38 ft. longer than the original 787-8 and capable of seating up to 330 passengers, which aims it at the heart of the A330 market.

The 787 program was off to a good start in 2013, amassing 120 firm orders by December following a late boost from Etihad, which announced a contract for 30 at the Dubai Airshow. The deal, which also marked the 1,000th order for the 787 family, sees the backlog divided more or less equally between the standard 787-8 and the two stretched models. Of the two extended versions the 787-9 has 396 orders, or 39% of the firm backlog, while the 787-10 has 12%.

The 787-9 certification campaign is scheduled to be completed in the second quarter of 2014, with delivery to launch customer Air New Zealand set for mid-year.

Meanwhile Boeing will ramp-up 737 production to 42 per month in the first half of 2014 and begin assembly of the first 737 MAX in 2015. Boeing currently makes 38 737s a month at its Renton, Wash., site and is setting up a new assembly line within the facility to produce the initial MAX aircraft alongside the 737-700, -800 and -900 variants.

Boeing will spend the first quarter of 2014 working through layouts and preparing assembly drawings, as well as performing detailed design of the revised aft section. Detailed design drawings will be released over the remainder of the year, with assembly underway in 2015 and flight tests starting in 2016.

Bombardier is expected to update the flight-test and entry-into-service schedule for the CS100 at the beginning of 2014. The company has publicly stated that it targets first delivery 12 months after first flight. But many have seen that as being too ambitious and even Bombardier confirms that a review is coming. Analysts more or less agree that the aircraft will be delivered for the first time only in 2015. Regardless of whether the first CS100 will actually be delivered in 2014 or not, the company continues to face the massive challenge of having to establish the aircraft in the marketplace against the very aggressive competition from Airbus and, to a lesser extent, Boeing. Bombardier lost three key CSeries campaigns in 2013—Vueling, Easyjet and Air Asia—and it urgently needs better news in 2014 if only to reassure investors. As of December, it had 182 orders; the company is targeting 300 before the delivery of the first aircraft. Flight tests have been slow to pick up following first flight, and a second prototype, FTV-2, was to join the program around the end of the year.

Facing new challengers in its regional and small-airline market sector, Embraer is well into the detailed design of its recently announced “E2” derivative family, and picking up a batch of fresh orders for the current E-Jet generation. The first E2 variant, the 106-seat, Pratt & Whitney PW1900G-powered E190-E2 is scheduled to enter service in 2018 with the 132-seat E195-E2 following in 2019 and 88-seat E175-E2 in 2020. They are designed to offer 16-23% fuel-burn improvements and 15% lower maintenance costs over the current variants.

Embraer is targeting up to a 45% share of a market it estimates at 6,400 deliveries over the next 20 years, with the 175 being marketed as a hub feeder, the 190 an optimally sized “market opener” and the 195 serving E-Jet operators that want to upsize. Despite coming late to the party, its prospects appear bright, thanks at least in part to delays suffered by its new competitors.

Production of the current-generation family is back on a more stable footing, after orders rebounded following a painful slump. Embraer was forced to slash production by 40% after the onset of the global economic crisis in late 2008, to about eight per month. But in 2013 the company was helped by orders for more than 280 E-Jets from airlines such as Republic, United and SkyWest. Total backlog has risen to more than 240 current-generation E-Jets and more than 200 E2s.

Manufacturing of the first prototype of the Comac C919 should be underway by the end of 2014, if there are no further program slippages. A second program delay following one that was not announced has left Comac targeting late 2015 for the first flight of the C919. The iron bird, a ground rig on which systems are tested, was due to be operational for mechanical and hydraulic systems around the end of 2013, and should be working with all systems in mid-2014.

On the current plan for flight testing, a first delivery in 2017 is likely—or 2018 if there are more problems—compared with the original target of 2016. Industry executives familiar with Comac say the state agency suffers from inexperience and a bureaucratic culture; it and its predecessor have been working on the ARJ21 regional jet since 2002. First delivery of the ARJ21 is due next year, after about 12 years of development.

The Mitsubishi Aircraft MRJ should make its delayed first flight in the second quarter of 2015— again, if there are no further delays. Although the manufacturer has made no announcement, the first prototype should be rolled out in 2014; it is now being assembled.

This program has been shifted to the right three times by a total of more than three years, mainly because Mitsubishi Aircraft made mistakes in preparing for the MRJ's certification. First delivery is due in 2017.

Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST to see a video review of commercial air transport developments in 2013, or go to AviationWeek.com/aerospace2014