At the Airbus Innovation Days event yesterday in Toulouse the company revealed its A350-900 MSN001.  Innovation Days is Airbus’ name for its pre air show briefing event.

DSC_5886There is an old saying in aerospace; “If a plane looks right it will fly right”.  The A350-900 has that look about it.  Its dimensions seem “right”.

The A350-900 will seat 315 in a two-class configuration.  It is expected that the A350-1000 is more likely to see airlines flying this aircraft with a three-class configuration.   The economy section will seat nine across using 18 inch seats.   The A350-900 should have a range of 8,200 nautical miles.  Its Rolls-Royce engines each have 85,000 pound thrust.

The A350 XWB is a more sophisticated airplane (in technology terms) than the A380.   It will have greater e-Enablement also.  Airbus appears to have learned the tough lessons of the A380 early days. The A350XWB looks just like it did in brochures.

Airbus has seen market success with the A350XWB.  There are 616 firm orders from 34 customers.   Interestingly eight of the world’s top ten 777 operators have ordered the A350XWB.  Airbus believes the forthcoming 787-10X and 777-8X will compete with the A350-900.  This is the segment of the current 777-200.

The fact that Airbus has its A350XWB almost ready to fly (within the next three weeks, perhaps sooner, we estimate), and Boeing has yet to announce its 787-10X (despite the recent Singapore Airlines “order”), seems to put Airbus at a considerable advantage.  Even so, Boeing has seen consistent, even growing, interest in its 777.

The point here is that airlines see the “Big Twins” as an increasingly important segment.  These aircraft have capacities and ranges that enable the to handle almost any route.  With aircraft engines at unprecedented levels of reliability, these twins can fly ranges that until quite recently was the domain of the 747-400.   Which is why Airbus and Boeing have shown great interest in and received many orders for this segment.

Airbus’ A350XWB range sits between the 787 and 777.  Airbus feels comfortable that its A350XWB straddles the market effectively.  Boeing counters that they bracket the segment better at both bottom (~210 seats with 787-8) and top (~400 seats on 777-9X).   This is the usual marketing banter from the two big OEMs. Both stress their views as the most logical.  And both are right, given tradeoffs and limitations.  The challenge is always to find the sweetest spot in the sweet spot. This means figuring out where most airlines can get their range and payload needs met. Ideally OEMs want to get to the 85-90% solution.  Recent airline CEO comments from the IATA AGM about OEMs focusing on the needs of the Gulf airlines (who buys lots of planes) highlights this issue. The message to the OEMs is that these new, fast growing, airlines should not move or redefine design parameters.  For example, few airlines use the maximum range available. But these new airlines want aircraft with ranges from their home bases to virtually anywhere non-stop.

Airbus points to serious commitments from customers.  For example, A350XWB launch customer Qatar converted its initial order for 80 by moving to the bigger models.  Cathay Pacific added to its initial order.  Both these airlines are influential 777 customers.  This clearly puts Boeing under pressure to move rapidly on its 777 update.

The arrival of the A350XWB serves to demonstrate that ongoing innovation from Airbus is driving competitive pressure.  Airlines are looking for improved efficiency and lower seat costs.  The A350XWB is the next step in this process.  Boeing will respond.  And then Airbus will tweak the A350XWB and the race will continue.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share
%d bloggers like this: