TOULOUSE, France (AP) -- Airbus said Wednesday it is on track to deliver the wide-body A350 commercial jet by 2013 and vowed not to repeat the mistakes that marred the launch of the A380 superjumbo.
"Previous programs and the A380 in particular taught us some tough lessons," CEO Tom Enders said at a ceremony in Toulouse to mark the start of work on the final assembly line of the A350 XWB.
"That experience and the lessons learnt from it and the actions that are under way put us in a much stronger position."
The aircraft is designed to compete with Boeing Co.'s hot-selling 787, which is running two years late. Boeing last month announced a fifth set of delays that will set back delivery to 2010.
Airlines hoping to save on fuel bills are eagerly awaiting both the 787 and the A350. Both models are designed to be more energy-efficient than aircraft flying today thanks to a greater use of composite carbon materials.
Analysts say the technical setbacks dogging the 787 look greater than the troubles Airbus faced with its A380 superjumbo. But Airbus compounded what were essentially wiring difficulties with communication failures and management errors, leading to a two-year delay that wiped billions off profits.
Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Bregier said Airbus is anticipating technical setbacks with the A350 -- as with any new aircraft program -- and has trained its staff to flag problems in time to get them fixed.
"What for me is the most important is that we have changed the mind-set of our people: They tell us the truth," he told a news conference.
"What we want is not that they tell us there is no problem."
Bregier, who is responsible for Airbus's day-to-day operations, said his job is to "make sure there is nobody within Airbus who does not apply the rules." That system provides "a big safety net that if there is a drift we will be able to fix it."
The A350 XWB's first flight is scheduled for 2012, Enders said.
At the end of 2008, Airbus decided in an internal assessment that the A350-900 model is ready for a detailed definition freeze, which means the engineering focus shifts from the structure of the plane to parts design and the start of component production.
The A350 XWB will be available in three versions: the 270 seat A350-800, the 314-seat A350-900 -- which will be the first model to enter production -- and the 350-seat A350-1000.
The program was set back when Airbus had to redesign the plane after customers balked at an earlier version.
Airbus has 478 orders from 29 customers for the medium-capacity long-haul aircraft compared with 910 orders for the 787.
Bregier gave few details on how Airbus plans to finance the euro10 billion ($13.26 billion) A350 program. He said the development costs have so far been funded by Airbus and some of its suppliers in a risk-sharing program.
"We are not in a hurry to find other ways despite the difficulties we know our customers will face in 2009," he said.
Airbus may also seek government aid to create a "level playing field" with Boeing's 787, which he said "got a lot of subsidies."
Even though Airbus-parent EADS has cash reserves of euro9 billion, EADS CEO Louis Gallois said Tuesday that preserving that cash balance is a "top priority" as funding dries up in the credit crunch. Airline customers may need help with financing, which would drag on resources.
Airbus and Boeing are locked in a dispute over alleged large commercial aircraft subsidies and are awaiting a ruling by the World Trade Organization.
The U.S. and EU have accused each other of providing billions in illegal subsidies to the companies. The United States says EU subsidies have enabled Airbus to capture long-standing Boeing customers. The EU counters that Boeing receives U.S. federal and state tax breaks, development funding and grants, as well as large amounts of military contract.