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Today Airbus had another first flight, this time the A350-1000.  The aircraft looks good.  A video from AirlineFlyer captured the moment from this morning’s takeoff.

It is exciting when a new aircraft enters the market.  But what makes this aircraft special?  Airbus provided this infographic.

2016-11-24_8-02-17The A350XWB family consists of two models, the 325-seat A350-900 and the 366-seat A350-1000.   Let’s take a look at the market as of 3Q16 to see what it looks like. The chart lists the models and average age in years for the segments.


The Big Twin market is close to 1,400 aircraft, 246 of which are approaching replacement.  Boeing claims the 787-9 seats 290 in a two class layout, but the more typical layout is for 270 seats, which puts it on the cusp of this segment.  For example the United 787-9 seats 252 and the Virgin Atlantic version seats 264.  Only Air Canada has 298 seats on its five 787-9s.  The most popular model in the Big Twin segment is the A330-300 with 46% share, followed by the 777-200ER at 28%.  All told, Airbus has 61% of this segment in service.  Looking forward, Airbus offers the A330-900 and A350-900 in this segment.  Boeing will offer the 787-9 and -10.  The 787-9 is capable of more than 271 seats, we expect to see more of them located in the segment, replacing early 777s.

This means lessors and airlines are able to essentially pick between two approaches.  Boeing offers all new high-tech aircraft.  Airbus offers a high-tech solution and a mid-tech option.  The latter will be the segment price leader which ensures orders (currently 176 firmed).  The chart below from Airbus demonstrates their view of how Delta will deploy their orders.


Next let’s look at the Super Twin segment.  Here we have 844 aircraft averaging 16 years old.  Airbus is relatively weak in this segment, with only its 84 in service A340-600s compared to Boeing’s 676 777-300ERs, plus another 84 various Boeing models.  Precisely because this segment is a Boeing stronghold, the A350-1000 is important to Airbus.  The A350-1000 replaces the A340-600 and offers compelling economics.  Airbus claims 366 seats and the 777-300ER typically seats 365.  The largest 777-300ER operator, Emirates, seats 360 on its 777-300ERs.

Airbus has 195 orders from 11 customers for the A350-1000.  Boeing’s revised 777X comes in two sizes.  The -8 seats up to 375 and the -9 seats up to 425.  These seat counts are on the high end, and are more likely to be around 350 and 400 respectively.  Of the 306 orders Boeing has for the 777X,  53 are for the -8 and 253 are for the -9.  The A350-1000 will compete directly with the 777-8.   With 676 777-300ERs eventually to be replaced,  Boeing should pick many more orders for the -8.  In the meantime, what are current orders telling us?

2016-11-24_9-18-50The data suggests the A350-1000 is indeed well placed to take a big slice of the Super Twin segment from Boeing.  Airbus is outselling Boeing by nearly four to one.  Note that only two customers have ordered both aircraft, and in those cases the Airbus outsells the Boeing by three to one.  Boeing is going to win more orders, but is has fallen behind against the A350-1000.

Meanwhile Boeing’s 777-9 opens a new part of the Super Twin segment with a 400 seater.  With the market taking to the A350XWB, Airbus is apparently discussing an A350-2000 with key customers like Singapore Airlines. A “double-stretch” of the A350XWB brings challenges, such as a revised engine. Boeing has 253 orders for its 777-9.   The customers for this model are, as expected, highly influential airline brands.  But the 777-9 is some way off, maybe coming to the market close to slightly after 2020.  Airbus has time to tweak its ideas for a double-stretch A350.

In the meantime, Airbus claims the A350-1000 is 20 tons lighter and 25% more fuel efficient than the 777-300ER.  The 777-300ER has proven to be a winner for Boeing and is often referred to as the benchmark longhaul passenger aircraft.  The A350-1000 serves notice that its reign is going to come to an end.  That alone demonstrates how important today’s first flight is. The A350-1000 is a crucial product for Airbus to capture a big share of the growing Super Twin segment.

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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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