DBEA55AED16C0C92252A6554BC1553B2 Clicky DBEA55AED16C0C92252A6554BC1553B2 Clicky
April 18, 2024
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Its been some time coming.  Looking at Airbus’ order data, it was 2014 when they last won an A350 order (-900) and 2013 for an A350-1000 order.  So a forthcoming announcement from Virgin Atlantic will be most welcome – its expected to an A350 order and, crucially, for the -1000.  Reports indicate we can expect an order for a dozen – nine purchases and three on lease.


The fact that Virgin Atlantic is 49% owned by Delta is something to ponder.  Clearly the A350-1000 decision was reviewed in Atlanta.  Delta placed a big Airbus order in 2014 for A350-900s and A330-900s.  Fleet commonality optimizes MRO efficiency.

It makes sense to retire the remaining A340s in the Virgin fleet.  The A350-1000 has the capacity to replace 747s; Delta’s A350-900s are replacing its 747s.  Reports indicate Virgin Atlantic is also evaluating the 777.

The 777 mention is a two point item.

  • Is this a play to ensure the airline gets a compelling offer?  Nothing does this better than mentioning the name of a competitor.
  • Also Boeing has screaming deals on 777-300ERs; we hear discounts of 60% are possible.  Airbus might not be doing that on the A350 anymore now that it has been launched.  But, to recover lost ground on the -1000, which has previously seen cancellations, Airbus will be aggressive.  Moreover, an A350-1000 deal may be a way to ease out of a previous A380 commitment. Meanwhile if the 777 is being considered, given the replacement time horizon, Virgin can’t be looking at the 777X.

Virgin Atlantic has 11 A340-600s and 10 747-400s.  These are fuel burners, but in a low fuel cost environment, pressure to replace them diminishes.  The dozen A350-1000s conveniently matches the A340 fleet size.  The 747 fleet is being retired faster though.  So this could offer Boeing an advantage as they can almost certainly deliver aircraft sooner.  Remember Boeing lost a Delta order, in part, because of delivery slots.  Boeing’s 777 line needs orders and we think they will do what they need to do to win.

Its a great time to be a buyer.  And as we watch the demise of four-engined  aircraft at Virgin, we smile thinking about this period just a few years ago.  The Super Twins won the war.


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5 thoughts on “The A350 program is expecting a welcome order

  1. One of Virgin’s biggest problems in the past has been poor fleet decisions, leading to its high cost mostly 4 engine fleet of the present. Since it’s started modernizing with 787-9s, which it apparently likes, it would make more sense to expand with 787-10s to replace the A340-600s, which are about the same size. Virgin has a small fleet, so having smaller sub-fleets of completely different types is not a low cost solution. They would have to maintain different pilot pools and maintenance items for handfuls of jets. While 787-10s are smaller than 747s, they could use them to increase frequencies and the percentage of seats filled. The cost advantage of consolidating to a single fleet type for a small airline like Virgin seems obvious. Virgin may be making the same kind of fleet decision mistake that led to its present predicament.

  2. They had no choice but to order Airbus or lose the deposits on the A380 order. Having 2 small fleet types is poor planning but the risk of losing millions was too much to bear for Sir Richard.

  3. The other choice would be to buy A350s and sell the 787s while they are still a hot item on the market. Either way, a single fleet type would be far preferable to the 4 small fleets they have now. But Virgin didn’t get where it is today by making smart fleet choices.

  4. For clarity, neither the A350-900 or -1000 can replace the floor space and seating available on a 747-400. The -1000 is similar size to the 77W, and the -900 is similar in size to the forthcoming 787-10. An airline may choose to down-gauge their fleet replacement by using the smaller aircraft and in so doing offer greater cargo capacity and/or range, but none of the aforementioned twins replaces a 747-400 on a one for one basis. The only big twin that approaches the capacity of the 747-400 is the future 777-9X. Other than it, the options are upgauging to 747-8 or A380.

  5. Airbus seems to be all set to launch an A350-1000 stretch that according to JL would “be sitting right on top of the 777-9 with similar range and payload and substantially lower seat-mile costs”.* That means a stretch would have about 80m of total length and about the same cabin area as that of the 747-400. It would, in all likelihood, feature a 10 – 20 percent larger wing – all new, or derived from the current A350 wing – 72-74 m wing span and incorporating folding wing tips. It would still retain a huge amount of commonality with the A350-1000 – something that would be important to airlines such as Virgin Atlantic. In contrast, the 777-9 will have essentially no commonality with the 787 except for a similar cockpit. Thus, Virgin would have little incentive to order the 777-9 once the new large Airbus twin (A360?) have been launched.


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