TOULOUSE, France — Airbus delivered its first A350-1000 passenger jet to Qatar Airways on Tuesday at the jetmaker’s headquarters here. The “dash 1000” variant of the A350 is now the largest twin-engine jet Airbus has ever produced.
The jet was initially to be delivered late last year, but complications installing the airline’s new Qsuite business class seats forced the target date to slip into the new year. The new seats have already been installed in some of Qatar’s other aircraft, but it took than expected to adapt the new-design to the newer A350-1000s.
“It is very difficult to install a new program in a new airplane, especially the first one,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said at a press conference prior to the delivery.
Qatar will fly the aircraft’s first commercial flight Saturday (Feb. 24) between Doha and London Heathrow. The carrier will eventually work the jet into longer routes between Doha and the East Coast of the United States, according to Al Baker.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Qatar Airways’ luxurious new ‘Qsuite’ seats now flying from the USA (story continues below)
Airbus says the airplane can fly up to 7,950 nautical miles non-stop, making it capable of connecting Boston and Shanghai, or Paris and Santiago, Chile.
The -1000 is the second variant of the A350 family to be delivered to an airline. It joins its older-but-smaller sibling — the -900 — the first of which was first delivered to Qatar Airways in late 2014. The jets are manufactured with lightweight carbon-fiber composite materials instead of the more traditional aluminum. This change allows for greater fuel efficiency and more flier-friendly features, such as larger windows and lower cabin humidity.
As for the -1000 variant, it’s now Airbus’ largest twin-engine jet to ever enter service. At 242 feet long, the jet can haul up to 440 passengers in an all-economy configuration or 366 in a more-typical three class layout.
However, sales of the -1000 variant have been sluggish with airlines showing increasing wariness about purchasing — and then having to fill — larger airplanes. Boeing’s 777 program has fallen victim to the same fate, with its new 777X receiving record-busting orders after launch only to slow to a few dozen tepid commitments in the years since.
TODAY IN THE SKY: First look: Delta shows off new ‘flagship’ Airbus A350 in Atlanta (story continues below)
In the case of Airbus, a handful of airlines — including Cathay Pacific and United Airlines — have opted to swap previous orders for -1000 in favor of the smaller -900.
As a result Airbus says it is not presently pursuing plans for a third, even bigger version of the A350. The company had been toying with the idea for some time as a more direct competitor to Boeing’s 777X, but has backed off the plan in the absence of a stronger business case for moving ahead.
Despite the sluggish sales and unfavorable trends, Airbus has not given up hope for the A350-1000.
“I believe [sales] will open up,” outgoing Airbus COO Fabrice Bregier said here.
IN PICTURES: Airbus’ new Airbus A350 on display in Milwaukee
Airbus’ newest aircraft — the A350 XWB — passed through Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport on July 19, 2015. Airbus was showing this A350-900 as part of a A350 demonstration tour of the USA.
“The big wave of replacement of Boeing’s 777-300ER, which we target with the -1000, will start around 2020-23,” he said, adding that now was the time for the company’s sales team to kick into high gear.
“It is time to be much more aggressive, to explain to Boeing’s customers that this aircraft will be the better choice than the 777-9X,” he said.
That will leave Airbus on something of a barnstorming sales tour across the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, a move that it hopes will drum up more orders for the -1000. The company is betting on huge growth from Asia-Pacific in particular, forecasting a need for some 4,000 new widebody jets in the coming decade.
Separately, the event was the last for Bregier, who ended his lengthy career at Airbus on Tuesday after being passed over to replace outgoing CEO Tom Enders.
Unrelated, Al Baker also made a curious remark that he was interested in becoming a launch customer in supersonic passenger jet travel. Al Baker said the primary hangup was in the engine technology.
Stay tuned …
IN PICTURES: Finnair becomes the first European carrier to fly the Airbus A350
IN PICTURES: Singapore Airlines shows off its swanky new Airbus A350 in France
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