October 22, 2013
Credit: Rupa Haria
Airbus has launched detailed technical studies into further stretching the A350, program head Didier Evrard said yesterday.
The current studies center on how much additional engineering work would be needed for the aircraft’s structure and systems to allow the fuselage to be extended beyond that of the A350-1000, a stretched version of the baseline A350-900.
Earlier this month, at the Istat Europe conference in Barcelona, Airbus Chief Operating Officer-Customers John Leahy confirmed for the first time that the company was studying the idea, although he later downplayed his comments. Now, Evrard says “we are not in a hurry to define another product, but if the market needs it, we will do it.”
The current studies are primarily technical. Evrard points out that the landing gear for the -1000 is already different from the -900, and has upward weight potential in the tens of tons, so it would not be a hurdle. Evrard indicates that he does not see any technical issues that would be considered a serious technical show-stopper. “Others did it, we can certainly do it, too,” he says, referring to Boeing’s launch of the 787-10, a double-stretch of the 787-8.
The amount of engineering work needed would largely depend on the extent of the stretch and the kind of missions that the aircraft would have to fly. A stretched version that does not include significant upgrades is likely to lose range.
If Airbus goes ahead with the project, it would follow Boeing’s plans to stretch the 777, making the proposed 777-9X a 400-seat aircraft. The type is widely expected to be launched at the Dubai air show in November.
Following the technical studies, Airbus plans to take a closer look at the market potential of a larger A350, which would likely take the aircraft into a similar size category. The A350-1000 is defined by Airbus as a 350-seat aircraft in three classes. It is almost identical in size to Boeing’s 777-300ER, but Airbus claims it can seat nine additional passengers because the aircraft will have only four exit doors on each side rather than five for the -300ER.
Airbus argues that the proposed Boeing 777-9X will burn 15% more fuel than its A350-1000 for about 10% more capacity, and it will not get below the fuel-burn per seat achieved by the -900.