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Nov 22, 2012

Airbus A350-800 more at risk as Qatar upgrades to -900

The unloved new Airbus, the A350-800, gets swopped for a larger model by launch customer Qatar Airways

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The A350-800: Airbus graphic

In what in one sense looks like the same fate that overtook the 787-3 version of the Dreamliner, the future of the A350-800 model in the new Airbus mid scale wide body family is looking less certain.

Qatar Airways, the launch customer for the A350 family, is reported to have dropped its order for 20 of the smallest capacity longest range version of the new wide body family, the -800, in favour of turning them into deliveries of the middle range  capacity -900 model, and possibly some of the largest capacity -1000 version.

This would keep Qatar as the largest buyer of the new A350 family which is due to enter service by the end of 2014, with a total of 80 of the airliners. Opinions about the capability of the A350-900 remain divided. Airbus said earlier this year that it will be able to fly Sydney-Los Angeles in either direction with a commercially attractive payload, but that is a judgement potential customers would have to make when it comes to what is ‘attractive’, and the trans Pacific route is less demanding than the flights Qatar currently operates between its Doha hub and Melbourne with 777s.

Qatar also flies the shorter Doha-Perth route.

The A350-900 will be the first of the new Airbus family to fly when it starts it flight test program around the middle of next year, and will go into service first with Qatar in the second half of 2014. It is to be followed by the slow selling cut down -800 version, and toward the end of the decade, the much larger -1000.

Note that Airbus says in the report that it remains committed to the -800. This isn’t the same as saying “we will build it no matter what”. Boeing said similar things about its commitment to build a special shorter range version of the Dreamliner, the 787-3, which was only ever firmly ordered by Japanese carriers, before it was also cancelled because of the additional costs to the overall program of developing a version of the jet hardly anyone wanted to buy.

Neither of the major airliner makers are in a position to develop a wide spread of new models in the second decade of this century after restructurings in the first decade that cut deeply, arguably much too deeply, into their design and engineering resources.

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