Thursday, 7 June 2012

Is Airbus' A350-1000 Doomed?

Has Airbus made a critical mistake with its A350 program giving rival Boeing an even greater advantage in the large twin-engine market?

The A350-1000 in particular has struggled to gain momentum since it was launched, is now in its second design phase and is still attracting criticism from both Emirates and Qatar Airways who collectively have 40 of them on order.

In a tweet put to Airbus during a recent #AskTheExpert Q&A session with their Francois Caudron, Head of A350 Customer & Business Development, I asked...

"Is Airbus worried that orders for the A350-1000 are going down instead of up?
Are airlines really happy with it?"

My question was in direct response to the fact that Etihad Airways have reduced their commitment to the A350-1000 from 25 to 12.

Airbus responded to my tweet as follows...

"[The] A350-1000 order book situation is not linked to product attractiveness but rather linked to low early slots availability"

I find this quite a strange answer for the following reasons...
  • The A350 program has been open for orders since 1 December 2006. The program is considered by Airbus to be a Boeing 777 killer with the A350-900 and A350-1000 targeting the Boeing 777-200ER and Boeing 777-300ER respectively.
  • The A350-1000 has been redesigned since launch to make it more attractive to airlines, yet it seems to have been redesigned without airline consultation. Both Qatar and Emirates, who collectively have 40 out of 62 -1000's on order, have expressed concerns.
  • Why would you need to redesign an aircraft that is only suffering from 'low early slot availability'?
  • Despite the redesign, the A350-1000 has still failed to attract new orders (as of June 2012). The -1000 hasn't received a single new order since 2008, something Boeing is always keen to point out.
  • Redesigning the A350-1000 means its EIS will inevitably be delayed.
Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways criticism essentially boils down to the fact that the A350-1000 is not a strong enough competitor to the Boeing 777-300ER. Both airlines want more range, performance and less fuel burn. Emirates have even said the redesign was unnecessary and done without consultation.

If behind the scenes Airbus is working to address these issues, this is going to take more time and further delay the A350-1000.

Boeing 777-300ER
Boeing 777-300ER (Photo Credit: David McKelvey)

This is where Boeing benefits enormously.

They already have a very good airplane in the shape of the 777-300ER, demand for the plane has increased dramatically in recent years and has easily outsold the A350-1000. Airlines know that this aircraft is available to them now and does a bloody good job.

However, there is enormous room to improve this aircraft and Boeing is already studying the best way to do this. Emirates is heavily involved in its design and is urging Boeing to get it launched as soon as possible.

The 777 replacement program is currently known as the 777X and includes the 777-8X which would be the 777-200ER replacement / A350-900 rival and the 777-9X which would be the 777-300ER replacement / A350-1000 rival. Improvements over the original would include new, larger composite wings, new engines, general weight saving, an increased fuselage length (more passengers) and new 787 style cockpit whilst delivering better fuel burn.

Airbus' fumbling of the A350-1000 design is perhaps the result of not listening carefully enough to what airlines want. As a result, they felt compelled to do a redesign which has left the aircraft's biggest customers scratching their heads in amazement.

Boeing's tactical approach has enabled Airbus to go head first into a design which is not as strong as it could have been from the starting blocks. As a result, Boeing now has more time to study and perfect their rival solution, the 777X.

Airbus' A350-1000 could go down in history as a failure.


  1. Great observations. The 777X is looking like a great airplane even without the help of the A350-1000's disadvantage in the wide-body game. While Airbus is developing their composites, Boeing already has the benefit of 787's lessons learned and will be ready to further improve composites in time for 777X. Can't wait to see where the 777X goes... hopefully it doesn't get "dumbed down" to a smaller, incremental improvement instead of a what basically is a clean-sheet design.

  2. I think that Airbus is always reacting to Boeing. Airbus spent so much time and money developing the 380 which has a very limited market that they got behind the 777 & 787 and are now playing catch up with the 350. Time will tell.