Airbus is quietly moving away from the current design of the A350-800 and is considering changes that would make the aircraft larger and likely more economical to operate.
There is a “distinct possibility” that Airbus might make the smallest of the three A350 versions larger than currently planned, according to Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy. The change would lead the aircraft to “sit right on top of the [Boeing] 787-9.”
Airbus has been lobbying its customers for years to drop orders for the -800 in favor of commitments for the larger -900 or even the -1000. While progress has been slow and talks have been dragging on for a long time, the manufacturer last month convinced the newly merged American Airlines to change an order for 18 -800s originally placed by US Airways into -900s. The American decision reduces the -800 backlog to 61 aircraft.
Leahy says that Airbus is now “in discussions with Hawaiian [Airlines],” which has bought six of the smallest A350s and has so far been adamant that it has no requirement for a larger aircraft.
Many in the industry have doubted that Airbus will ever build the -800. If the plans are firmed up, the aircraft maker will not build the currently conceived version, but a yet-to-be fully defined aircraft.
Leahy argues that “we are production constrained until beyond 2020” and Airbus wants to use the available slots for the larger versions, which are generating higher revenues.
However, since the last of several fundamental design changes in the A350 program, the -800 has become a shrunken version of the -900, at a size that is not economically optimal. The aircraft also has more range than required by most of the market. Some of its disadvantages could be addressed by shrinking the -800 less.
According to Leahy, Airbus is presenting the remaining customers for the type two choices. Either the existing version of the aircraft is delivered if airlines are insisting on the specification, or a larger -800 version is developed and that would mean a delay of “a couple of years.”
Airbus is not saying when the current version of the -800 would be available, but Leahy wants to deliver the -1000 before the -800. The -1000 is to enter service in 2017.