Mr Champion, as we have achieved a major step in the life of the Airbus A350 programme - the granting by EASA of its type certificate - what is your assessment of how the certification process went?
I must acknowledge it went well given all new certification challenges linked with the extensive use of composites, or the development of electrical structural network for current return. This could only happen with the continual involvement of people from EASA and Airbus since the beginning of programme. I want to thank them all for their great engagement.
To what extent have you benefited from the experience gained in the certification of previous airplane types, especially the A380 to talk about the most recent one?
With our experience of the two last Airbus programmes (A380 and A400M), we knew that A350 XWB certification would need a more robust programme management. Hence, A350 XWB went through reinforced “Maturity Gate” milestones, and certification was part of it since the beginning of the development. This helped a lot in pacing both Airbus and EASA objectives, such as identification and closure of certification basis, definition of means of compliance, release of certification documents…
How has the relationship been with EASA throughout the process?
We have had, as usual, a very fruitful relationship with EASA despite a quite dense and exceptional workload context: for the very first time, we have launched the application for the A350-1000 (stretched version) while completing A350-900 Type Certification.
We have been benefiting from strong Airbus internal procedures, validated by EASA as part of the Airbus Design Organisation approval. This allowed EASA to delegate a part of compliance activities to Airbus, and to monitor its proper application through regular audits. As a good example of this unique relationship between Airbus and EASA, the first flight of an A350 XWB prototype was cleared for the first time 100% within Airbus. EASA audit performed a few months later was considered very satisfactory.
We have also innovated in our ways of working with the creation of an “A350 XWB plateau” in EASA facilities in Cologne. We have optimized there both Airbus and EASA teams efforts until Type Certification, with on-site bi-monthly support and a strong project management. This strong collaboration between Airbus and EASA was really beneficial to the programme certification and should be pursued.
Now that this milestone is achieved, what will be your priorities for this programme and more generally?
The story between Airbus and EASA will obviously continue after A350-900 Type Certification. The very next milestone for A350 XWB is the aircraft entry into service with Qatar Airways. EASA is involved again in the approval of major modifications for the individual aircraft certification. Then we will have to carry on the A350-1000 certification as derivative aircraft. We have also other short terms objectives with all Airbus NEO (New Engine Option) projects on the A320 and A330 families. For all those exciting projects, EASA level of involvement will be of essence for both Airbus and the agency management of certification activities
What is your vision of the relationship between Airbus and EASA in the future?
EASA has a deep knowledge of Airbus processes and we have to further develop and optimize the level of involvement of the agency in the certification activities.
We have clear ways of improvement to make the certification process be leaner. The scope is broad as it goes from certification document standardisation, involvement in testing down to use of IT validation tools. Continuous improvement of our processes with EASA is crucial to tackle our next industrial challenges.
Certification is an integral part of an aircraft development, and definitely not a parallel process. The more we develop our collaboration with EASA, the more we will succeed to make the world’s best and safe aircraft.
It requires focus on what matters and relies on the trust we continue to build in the frame of our long term partnership.
Charles Champion is the Executive Vice President Engineering of Airbus since April 2010. In this role he is responsible for research & technology, overall product architecture and concept development, the design office, integration & flight-testing and continued product airworthiness.