climate change

Mar 4, 2016

Airbus shows its hand over super A350 model

While hints have been dropped for some time, Airbus has firmed up its guidance about a likely third and largest version of the A350 family to compete with the Boeing 777-X series.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Singapore Airlines' first A350-900 delivered this week
Singapore Airlines’ first A350-900 delivered this week

While hints have been dropped for some time, Airbus has firmed up its guidance about a likely third and largest version of the A350 family to compete with the Boeing 777-X series.

This Reuters report on a 400 seat plus version of the medium sized all new technology wide bodied long range jet came only days after Singapore Airlines took delivery of its first A350-900 this week.

The link with Singapore Airlines over the A350 family extends further however, with the airline also being the launch customer for the ultra long range version with which it will restore, from 2018, the famous non-stop links from Singapore to New York city and LA that were once operated by A340-500s between 2004-2013.

Singapore Airlines is also asking Airbus for a higher capacity version of the A350 to compete directly with the Boeing 777-9, which should enter service, folding wing tips and all, early in the next decade. (As well as the initial A350-900 version Singapore Airlines began receiving this week, there is a -1000 stretch, with the version the Reuters reports dubs an -8000 being a further stretch but one that involves trading range for capacity.)

Analysts might be puzzled however by the reference in the report to Airbus saying the ‘super’ A350 would be of interest to carriers that didn’t need to deal with the extreme heat and range challenges faced by Middle East carriers and their rapidly expanding hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Boeing had to design the 777-X line to cope with those severe operational conditions to win launch orders from Emirates and Qatar Airways, and over the protests of Lufthansa, which said it didn’t need to fly heavy twin-engined jets off airports where the field temperatures routinely push 47- 48C.  However Lufthansa did also order the big Boeing.

In a rapidly warming world, the notion that there will be airlines that don’t need to be able to cope with such high temperature conditions might lose currency as the number of days when serious heat waves limit the lifting capacity of twin-engined jets begin to rise in places like Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Sydney, and even Frankfurt, Paris, Singapore and Beijing.

There is also an issue with the seating capacity Airbus and Boeing quote for their wide body jets.  Operators are today flying A330-300s with 436 seats, and current model 777s with even more, and the admirable amenity of the nine across cabin in the A350 may well become 10 across hell, just like the fate of the 787 Dreamliners with high density seating that ignores the fact that physically hurting adult sized customers is ultimately a form of self harm for high quality brands.

It will be of considerable interest to see how Airbus handles these climate change and people change issues with a ‘super’ A350 in a world where the field conditions are getting hotter and the passengers larger.

Let’s hope they do it better than Boeing.

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29 thoughts on “Airbus shows its hand over super A350 model

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    Rapidly warming world ?
    Please, its based on a small rise over the next 50 years for most of us. Dubai’s issue is that the temperature exceeds 40 C often and sometimes gets to 50C. last week it was 22C.
    I think the engine designers can provide more thrust quicker than the temps rise and then there’s the option to bring back the VC10! (or more seriously drop the the very large twins for quads)

  2. Ben Sandilands


    I think the rules related to twin engined jets in very hot conditions could be a factor in favor of the re-engined A380. As could a need to carry twice as many people per slot on a rising number of mega city pairs.

    However on small temperature rises it’s what happens to the frequency of heat affected days in marginal operations. If an airport only has seven such days a year, no big deal. But if it has three or four weeks because of the statistical distribution of extreme events even with less than 2C average land temp warming, then that is a problem.

    Around where I live the average temperature rise has been slight in my lifetime, but the ground rarely freezes anymore and severe frosts are a fraction of what they used to be and their distribution is less spread across the calendar. The hot dry conditions have cut deeply into cattle production and rich soil is being lost to hot eroding winds. Snow is brief and much less frequent, despite a once in five year dump of some note last winter.

    In NZ where I climbed in the 60s the Ball Glacier, over 200 metres deep then, has all but vanished, and the Tasman has become more truncated than before (although thicker at its highest elevations because of increased precipitation, that now falls as rain rather than snow lower down.)

    In places like Washington state, where I have rels, the small glaciers that used to regulate natural irrigation for farmlands east of the divide have variously vanished or are in serious retreat. Bad things happen when small changes of mean temperatures occur. Amplifying the natural variation with an excess of fossil sourced carbon contamination is incredibly dangerous and greatly accelerates the rate of change upwards or downwards. We’ve delivered to our descendants even more challenges than nature was ever going to deliver.

  3. patrick kilby

    On another matter if the economics work then it may be a better choice together than the 779 and with the long range Version of the A359 (for Syd-NYC) for Qantas and avoid a A380 cancellation penalty.

  4. derrida derider

    A bit OT, but Ben is right about global warming. It’s a mathematical property of Gaussian distributions (such a that of weather) that small movements in the average translate to much bigger changes in frequency of the extremes.

    In any given year there will be places in the world that have their hottest day on record and others that have their coldest day on record – but record heats are now over five times as common as record colds.

    So yes, if you’re designing a plane variants of which will still be flying in 50 years then you should expect it will be taking off in really hot conditions more often than at present. Maybe as compensation you can turn up the thermostat on that giant fridge they put them in for testing …

  5. Harry

    Brilliant answers, Ben and Derrida.

    Ben, to follow on from patrick’s point, I don’t suppose you’d care to speculate on the odds of Qantas picking an A350-900/1000/8000/ULR lineup? Everything I’ve seen publicly has been that they’re planning a 787-9/10 and 777-8X/9X fleet (plus JQ’s -8s, which may or may not come back to QF, depending on the day of the week). But I’d heard a few people being a bit skeptical about the number of QF routes that would be thick enough to support the 777Xs.

  6. Ben Sandilands


    I can’t see even a flicker of life in Qantas or Virgin when it comes to buying new wide body jets in terms of a decision before maybe late 2017.

    Yet if they are going to participate in their own right in international traffic growth they will need to make decisions sooner rather than later.

    I think the 787 variants on offer are too small for typical Australian passengers over long distances in economy, especially if the competition is a classic layout in a 777, an A350 at nine across, or an A380.

    That points to Qantas seeking a deal from Boeing for 777s, either really cheap run out current 777s, or waiting some time, maybe too much time, for them to become available as 777-X models in the next decade. The competing offer will be in an A350 model, or the exercise of A380 commitments, keeping in mind the current version is much better than the earlier version, and became the standard for builds from late 2013, after the current Qantas fleet was delivered.

    Without something very large Qantas will turn away customers to Hong Kong and London from any Australian airport because of slot limitations at those two airports. Similarly, it will need the largest possible jet available to serve any US airport from Sydney, because of Sydney limitations.

    But maybe that’s the plot, disappointing though it might be for those of us who would like to see a bigger Qantas and Virgin Australia in their own right, rather than as a conduit for a virtual network that cedes carriage to alliance or equity partners, as the case may be.

    I think the wild card is consolidation. I don’t think the current ownership structure of the Qantas group can endure, but the brand could thrive in an IAG type arrangement, in which a holding company owns a portfolio of brands and is traded on parallel stock exchanges but they are individually managed in the country of origin. We see this with British Airways and Iberia in the IAG arrangement.

  7. Dan Dair

    With QF’s B787 options still available, it’s hard to imagine that they’d buy anything other than Boeing products,
    unless Airbus produced something so good that an airline couldn’t afford NOT to have them.?

    The A350 seems top-drawer, but not actually a step-change above what’s already out there or slated to become available over the next 5 to 10 years.?

  8. Dan Dair

    “the ‘super’ A350 would be of interest to carriers that didn’t need to deal with the extreme heat and range challenges faced by Middle East carriers”

    Perhaps, Airbus have a plan to ‘tweak’ the wing of the A350 in much the same way they do for the A380.?

    Airbus may be looking at a plan which offers greatest flight efficiency right-now.

    There could then be options to generate greater lift in aircraft built 15- 20 years in the future,
    around the time that currently-built airframes will be getting scrapped
    and at a point where the consequences of higher temperatures might become more significant for airlines.?

  9. ghostwhowalksnz

    Looking back at the GISTEMP gridded dataset for surface temperature for Sydney area, comparing the annual mean 1901- 1920 to 1990-2010, ie 20 year periods we see a value for 0.25C to 0.5C. This is as I said a very small value. This is the essence of climate looking at temperatures over longer periods, eg Sydney Observatory readings expect just 4 days a decade over 40C. Inland areas would be higher, but not relevant to airport. Local weather can seem much more variable

  10. whiskeyalphalimalimadashecho

    Well Ben, western Sydney will turn from green fields and chicken sheds into a massive suburban temperature heat sink. A bit of extra of thrust would not hurt ops at a certain prospective airport….which like-for-like will be 4-odd degrees hotter than the coastal KSA.

  11. Tango

    Some may want to think about LA, Denver, Dallas before they dismiss the temperature issue, and that’s just for the 777X class.

    A whole host of cities come into play for 787s, A330s, 737s etc

  12. comet

    So as climate change bites, the old quad-jets start to look better.

    The A340 could be brought out of retirement Maybe the 747-8 might get a sale or two. On second thoughts, probably not. ☺

  13. patrick kilby

    I think an interim measure might be a 789 long range. The routes QF talks of Syd Chicago, Melb-Dallas and Perth London are all further than current 789s fly. Will QF order a special ER version, but this won’t solve the economy crush Ben refers to. In the longer run more A380s and even A350s might have a role in a slot constrained world.

  14. ghostwhowalksnz

    There is no ‘climate change bites’. Will around of 5 or 6 days over 40C in Sydney, thats over decade and that’s a 20% rise have any real effects on airliner takeoffs. Some non critical cargo not carried till another day.
    Anyway I thought Sydney airport flight operations have bigger disruptions from thunderstorms, but Im not sure of their local frequency at a longer time frame, 15-20 years.
    I had to demolish some peoples idea that South pacific cyclones were increasing in frequency recently- they are not, as there seems to misguided idea that every weather event will be ‘much worse’

  15. George Glass

    Temperature is only rarely the limiting factor even in Dubai.Two degrees is neither here nor there. The limiting factor for Qantas is competing with the middle eastern carriers on the major trunk routes.QF will not invest mega-bucks to compete in a contest it cant win.It will however compete on long skinny “boutique” routes.Look forward to the B777-X Sydney direct New York and London etc.That is the holy grail.

  16. Ben Sandilands


    Qantas is a notably more profitable airline than Emirates at the moment on the indications of EK’s operations, not including associated activities, and unlike the UAE carrier isn’t paying a substantial dividend to its owners.

    Whether it will invest to participate in growth is to be sure, a different and important question, although it is hiring pilots and cabin crew for international expansion.

    The guidance from Emirates about the operational issues caused by heat are also scorched into the foreheads of Boeing and Airbus sales people. This isn’t about an extra 2C at all. Within this century, it’s about whether the Middle East becomes uninhabitable (for natural rather than political reasons).

  17. ghostwhowalksnz

    The temperature increase Ben are talking about are in fact the so called ‘fatal’ wet bulb temperature WBT of 35 ( which corresponds to 46C and 50% humidity) AND exposure for around 6 hours. ( who would be that mad even at lower WBT of 30)
    The story in the Guardian which may be the source of Bens information is based on a modelling which assumes a 4.5C rise and 8.5C this century.

    Whether this would occur is debateable as a much discussed problem in climate models is the ‘divergence’ issue or why actual temperatures are not as high as those in the models. That doesnt mean models are wrong just that the understanding behind them is behind where they need to be. Late this century is one of those times that are probably speculative at the moment.

    As well the highest WBT results may only occurring under the 8.5C warming scenario and be the maximum achieved in a 30 year period. ie the worst warming scenario and the highest temperatures over a 30 year period.
    Clearly no grounds for complacency but I dont expect the next 50 years to be a reun of the last 50.

  18. Zipper

    “In a rapidly warming world” lol.. Hilarious! Is this the same world where average world temps haven’t moved the last 18years?? Remember when it was called Global Warming, that didn’t happen so now it’s climate change, the biggest scam of all time, Tim Flannery once said it would never rain again, remember that? This state spent billions of tax payer money, and still are mind you, on a desalination plant, Don’t buy a house near the coast he said because it will be gone soon lol, and all the lefties lapt it up.. No the biggest problem facing us is over population, not so called climate change, it’s getting out of control, the world needs a cull, a war or a plague, just something to bring it down, it sounds harsh but that’s the hard truth of it..

  19. comet

    This forum appears to have become the gathering place for climate change deniers to voice there opinions.

    I was reading a study dealing with a psychoanalysis of climate change deniers. Apparently just about all of them vote for governments that are conservative and right-wing.

    So that’s a fascinating thing. Why is it so? Why is someone who votes right-wing more likely to be a climate change denier? What is the link between voting right-wing and rejecting a science that is agreed upon by 97% of peer-reviewed scientists?

  20. Dan Dair

    I would posit that ‘right-wingers’ tend to be, or perceive themselves to be in relatively comfortable situations.?

    From that position, they view the world as they understand it from a point-of-view which imagines that everything is right & in it’s place.?

    Anything which upsets that status-quo is therefore inherently wrong in their eyes.

    Slavery was overturned by people who held a social-conscience, not by those who had a vested-interest in maintaining the status-quo.

    In the West, the emancipation of women & people of colour again came through the power of social-conscience.

    Famously, President George (shrub) Bush publicly denied climate change, setting back the cause of emissions-reduction & alternative fuels development, most especially within the USA, but also worldwide.

    I deeply suspect, that when the equatorial regions become too hot to sustain human beings & the major population centres of Western Europe become frozen over Winter due to the failure of the Gulf-stream, it will be the climate-change deniers who turn-up & say “well if only someone had taken the time to explain it to us.!!!”

    To paraphrase; ‘there are none so deaf as those who will not hear.?’

  21. Dan Dair

    “the biggest problem facing us is over population, not so called climate change, it’s getting out of control, the world needs a cull, a war or a plague, just something to bring it down, it sounds harsh but that’s the hard truth of it..”

    Good point,
    Feel free to start right away and as close to home as you can possibly manage.

  22. George Glass

    Ben, the Middle East is already uninhabitable.

  23. AngMoh

    For those who don’t think global warming exists and has no impact on aviation: The perimeter road around Singapore Changi Airport is being raised by about a meter to protect the airport from rising sea levels due to global warming.
    Not really a big deal, but the sea level is already up and just in this one place millions are being spent to cater for it. For countries like the Maldives and Pacific islands, a few 10s of CM can spell disaster.

  24. Ben Sandilands

    The reference to global warming concerns its impact on aviation, and the at times bitter disagreement between customers for the 777-X over the cost of the additional performance for very hot operations required by ME carriers.

    Ang Moh makes the important point in my opinion as to the effect of sea level rises over the current operational intervals most of us will experience on airports as well.

    While it has brought out all sorts of ill informed observations, they come from those who know far more about this matter than GE, Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad, Qantas as well as Boeing and Airbus. This inspired wisdom which exceeds that of the major stakeholders in air transport is awesome. And f*cking ridiculous as well.

  25. ghostwhowalksnz

    Like you Ben Im interested in the effects of global warming for Aviation. So in that context I looked for the specific rise in temperature ‘over the last century’ for Sydney/NSW coast area which is interesting that its close to HALF that for the global figure. ( These were reputable numbers from the US government agency). Other useful numbers were that Sydney City has a ‘probability’ matching the fingers on one hand of the numbers of days per decade that reach over 40C. Very little impact on aviation operations even if there is a 50% rise in frequency.

    Again with the looking for figures for the middle east, I found what seemed to be the Guardian story, which did link to the original research.
    The useful information is that its end of century modelling, which is clearly of no use for a 777X.
    I can be absolutely sure of that as Im highly confident engine thrust is increasing faster than global warming.

    AngMoh is only partly correct that the airport perimeter road is being raised because of global warming.
    We are doing something similar to a major Motorway in Auckland that crosses a substantial tidal inlet, but the primary reason is it was built on soft sediments which compress over time ( 50 years +)
    Changi airport runway was extended into the soft muds of the tidal channel which separates the island from Malaya. The runway may be on piles but the road wouldnt be so now requires raising.

    The absolute sea level rise on the perimeter road is the water rise ( a mean figure in SS of 1.5mm per year)+ a whole of island sinking rate of 1.5mm/per year + x mm/year from soil compression under road(maybe 20x rate of water level rise)

  26. Uwe

    “Like you Ben Im interested in the effects of global warming for Aviation.”

    More energy in the atmosphere brings water vapor further up to new heights leading to more icing incidents.

    The place the 777X is sitting on is the only viable path from the 777-300ER base item. It will be more of a “capabilities” frame than an “efficient” frame.

  27. ghostwhowalksnz

    Doesnt Dubai partly solve its almost daily maximum 40C or more during the hot months by EK having most of its flights very late at night when its cooler ?
    Sydney cant go down that path but evening departures are ideal for peak passengers demand and the jet engine thrust.

  28. patrick kilby

    Ghost the EK flights occur at any time of the day the Melb flight is at 10.25am; and the LA and SFO flights also mid-morning.

  29. ghostwhowalksnz

    I understand the busiest time at Dubai is in the middle of night

    “It has grown at such a furious pace that the present terminals are bursting at the seams, especially during the peak hours around midnight.”

    Emirates flys its A380s to Auckland specifically so it can DEPART from Australian airports in the evening.

    Its one of the air traffic conundrums, passengers prefer long haul overnight flights which often means if they arrive in morning plane sits around for most of the day. Sometimes like Heathrow you have to take what you can get but for long time carriers they have the slots they want

    eg non stop from Heathrow- Hong Kong

    As I said passengers prefer long haul evening flights and airlines schedule accordingly.
    Sydney LAX is the reverse, flights leave late morning Sydney to all arrive early morning in LA, but principle is the same.

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