The A350 is Airbus’s newest aircraft. Since the ending of the A380 program, it has become its largest offered as well. Unlike other recent updates – such as the A320neo and A330neo – the A350 is a new clean sheet design. We investigate how this came about, developments since launch, and the future.
Why launch the A350?
Airbus developed the A350 to compete with the Boeing 787. Boeing launched this clean sheet project, with a focus on efficiency improvements, in 2004. For Airbus at that time, the A380 had yet to enter service, and it is fair to say it was focussing on a different area.
Improvement in efficiency, and emissions reduction, have been a major focus of aircraft design for decades. It’s a new direction since the early days of jet development, when speed, range, and capacity took a leading role.
Aircraft such as the 737 and A320 have been through several variants since launch, each improving on efficiency and operating cost. Developments such as the A320neo and 737 Next Generation and MAX are still based on the same original airframe designs.
So, too, is the A330neo. But to take full advantage of the advantages in technology, Boeing opted for a new design for the 787. Airbus did the same for the A350.
In fact, the A350 competes not just with the 787 but also the 777. It sits somewhere between the two. As Airbus’s largest offering, the A350-1000 will go up against the new 777X as well. Although the larger 777-9 sits above it In terms of capacity.
Designing a new aircraft
Before the launch of the Boeing 787, Airbus was planning its next widebody based on the A330, but with new engines and a partial carbon fiber construction. With the 787 hitting the market and strong early interest from airlines, Airbus had to revisit these plans.
It announced a revised clean sheet A350XWB at the 2006 Farnborough Air Show, but even the Airbus board was not fully agreed on the plans at that stage. A final design emerged later that year. Development was planned to begin in 2007, with a target of entering service in 2013.
The new A350 was planned with three variants – the A350-800, -900, and -1000 in increasing capacity. It would feature a fully redesigned composite fuselage, a composite wing with blended winglets, and new engines.
Its series name A350XWB gives away one feature that differentiated the aircraft from the 787. Its ‘Extra Wide Body’ cabin would allow for 10-abreast seating in economy, although most airlines have opted for a more spacious 9-abreast.
As with any aircraft, the A350 engines are critical to its performance. General Electric started out as the preferred engine manufacturer, but this later changed to Rolls-Royce.
GE offered a version of its GEnx engine for the A350XWB – the same engine proving popular on the 787. This would work well for the smaller variants, but GE did not offer a higher thrust option for the A350-1000. Rolls-Royce could offer this with the Trent XWB engine, which became the preferred engine for all A350 variants.
Airbus started as a consortium of manufacturers across Europe, and its production remains geographically spread, following this same model. The A350 took this further with its A350 project, with several new production facilities launched. Some of the main sites include:
- Broughton in Wales, UK for the wings
- Puerto Real and Getafe in Spain for fuselage and tailplane sections
- Saint-Nazaire, France for the nose fuselage
- Nantes, France for parts of the fuselage and keel beam
- Hamburg, Germany for the rear fuselage
- Bremen, Hamburg for final wing components (after construction in Broughton)
All components come together for final assembly in Toulouse. To facilitate this, Airbus has developed a new transporter – the Beluga XL. The original Beluga was introduced in 1995, based on the A300-600 airframe. To transport both wings of the A350, a larger transporter was required, and the Beluga XL launched in 2020 based on the A330-200.
Dropping the smaller variant
The original proposed smallest variant, the A350-800, would have offered a typical three-class capacity of 276 (compared to 300-350 for the A350-900 and 350-410 for the A350-1000). It would have been just over six meters shorter than the A350-900 and offered a small range improvement of 250 kilometers.
It would offer improved economics with its smaller size, and would expand the operating possibilities for airlines. It was initially popular, with as many as 182 orders in mid-2008. Some of these were switched to the A350-900 as airlines revised plans. But the real end for the A350-800 was the launch of the A330neo at the Farnborough Airshow in 2014.
The A330-900 offered a similar capacity to the A350-800. And many airlines already operated A330-200 or A330-300 aircraft, so they could maintain commonality.
Most airlines switched over to the A330neo or went with the A350-900. The smaller A330neo, the A330-800, was not popular and has only had 15 orders. the decision to scrap the A350-800 led to a moderate loss for Airbus – Hawaiian Airlines first switched the A330neo but later canceled this and went with the Boeing 787.
The A350 has 913 orders to date
The A350-900 entered service in January 2015 with Qatar Airways. The larger A350-1000 followed in February 2018, also with Qatar Airways.
As of March 2021, there have been 913 orders – 745 for the A350-900 and 168 for the A350-1000. And to date, 362 and 54 of each type have been delivered by Airbus.
Simple Flying took a detailed look at the main operators for the A350 in late 2020. Qatar Airways is the largest customer, with 76 aircraft ordered (although Singapore Airlines is close behind with 67 and currently has more delivered).
It is very popular across Asia and Europe. But its penetration is lower in the US, with only Delta Air Lines operating it. United Airlines has an order, but this has been deferred until 2027.
Behind the 787
How does this compare to the 787 it set out to compete against? The 787 has sold more so far, but it has been on the market longer. It also crosses more into the lower capacity and range market. As of March 2021, there were 994 aircraft delivered, and 495 remaining on order.
In reality, rather than this showing that the 787 has beaten the A350, it shows the popularity of both of them. The clean sheet developments have been smart moves by both Boeing and Airbus, and this will likely remain so as the focus moves more to efficiency and emissions reduction.
As a new aircraft and now Airbus’ largest offering, the A350 has formed a leading part of many airline fleets. Like we saw we aircraft like the 747 and the A380, many airlines have chosen the A350 to launch new onboard cabins and products.
British Airways, for example, first offered its new Club Suite – a long-awaited upgrade to its Club World business class product – on the A350. And coming up soon, Lufthansa may use the A350 to launch its new business class product. This was originally intended for the 777X, but with delivery delays, it is now more likely on the A350 or the 787.
Singapore Airlines also deserves mention here. It operates the specifically configured long-range A350-900ULR, with just 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats. This currently flies Singapore to New York as the world’s longest flight.
Future for the A350
Clearly, the immediate future for the A350 is clouded by the pandemic and the slowdown in aviation. Almost 500 aircraft remain on order, and many of these are being delayed or even possibly canceled.
Emirates is one major upcoming A350 adopter. It is planning significant changes to its all A380 and Boeing 777 fleet. Along with the 777X and 787, it has 50 A350-900 on order. The order remains in place, but Emirates is reviewing its fleet needs going forward.
New A350 variants
Looking further ahead, what development could we see for the A350? Although it is still early days for the aircraft, there has already been discussion about a new engine version, a so-called A350neo.
In 2019, we looked at how Airbus was already considering a new version and was in discussions with GE regarding engines, likely based on those used with the 777X. The Rolls-Royce Ultrafan engine is another possibility. It is hoped this will be in service in 2025.
There is also the possibility of a return to the smaller A350-800 variant. Whilst this was originally made obsolete with the launch of the A330neo, a renewed focus on smaller aircraft to meet lower demand post-pandemic could see Airbus revisit its offering.
Amidst the current market, it seems unlikely Airbus would develop any larger variant. This will, of course, leave Boeing ahead in a high-capacity offering. The upcoming 777-9 will beat it for capacity and sit in a category on its own now that the 747-8 and A380 are out of production.
Will there be an A350 Freighter?
And as a final thought, what about the possibility of an A350 freighter? Boeing clearly dominates the freighter market currently with the 747 and 777 freighters. There is certainly space for a new freighter that takes advantage of the technology and efficiency improvements of new airframes. The 777X and the A350 are the obvious candidates.
Boeing has previously expressed the possibility of a freighter based on the 777-8, but nothing has yet been confirmed. Likewise, there has been discussion about an A350 freighter. In March 2021, we looked at reports that Airbus was putting out feelers amongst potential customers.
It would be exciting to see Airbus expand in the cargo market and bring the advantages of a new aircraft. But it remains an ambitious prospect given the state of the industry presently. Cargo demand, and prices, remain high. But there are likely to be plenty of second-hand widebody aircraft around for conversion.
The development would be expensive and challenging as well. One of the advantages of the A350 is its composite fuselage structure, but this does not lend itself well to adding large cargo access doors. Airbus would be the first to try it with such a fuselage.
Airbus may not have conceived the efficient A350 as early as Boeing did with the 787, but it has still worked out well. Feel free to discuss more about the origins, development, and future of the A350 in the comments.
Qantas’ Cosmic Supermoon Flight Sells Out In 2.5 Minutes
Earlier this week, Qantas raised the bar on its now-regular scenic flight adventures and began promoting a two-and-a-half-hour flight out of Sydney to view a supermoon event in late May. If it sounds like fun and you are keen to go, the bad news is Qantas sold out the flight in two and a half minutes. Qantas has also closed the waitlist.
The latest in a long line of successful scenic flights for Qantas
Departing early evening on May 26, Qantas plans to send one out of its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners out of Sydney and east across the Pacific. The Dreamliner will climb to 40,000 feet to capitalize on dark and clear night skies. Qantas notes in addition to watching the rising of the supermoon, that evening also happens to be a total lunar eclipse. The airline says that is a highly unusual double act.
Passengers will be suitably lubricated by a pre-flight cocktail party and cosmic cocktails. They may even learn something. A professional astronomer will be along for the ride and providing some inflight insights.
This sortie to check out the southern hemisphere night sky follows a series of highly successful scenic flights for Qantas in the past year. That included a seven-hour marathon overflying much of Australia and a weekend to Uluru. More recently, there was a seafood lunch on an island in the Whitsundays. All of the flights quickly sold out.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) April 28, 2021
Blocked seats and presales to premium passengers limit the number of seats available for general sale
The Qantas 787-9 normally accommodates 236 passengers across three cabin classes. But fewer seats were available on the supermoon flight. Qantas blocked off the middle seat blocks in the economy and business class cabins. The ‘E’ seats in the premium economy cabin were also blocked from sale.
The number of seats available to the general public reduced further after Qantas offered its most elite frequent flyers early access. The airline’s best customers weren’t shy about taking up the offer.
According to keen Qantas watchers on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum, around 55 seats were left for public sale at midday Sydney time on Wednesday. Qantas confirmed to Simple Flying those remaining seats sold out by 12:03 Sydney time.
“I jumped on at the strike of 12, and there was barely anything left. There was just one window seat in Y left, second last row. But by the time I had got to checkout, my seats were bumped,” posted one member on the forum.
“My experience too,” posted another member.
Some handy revenue as Qantas capitalizes on demand for scenic flights
Qantas began waitlisting hopeful would-be passengers, but the demand was so high, that waitlist has now closed as well. The airline was selling economy class tickets from US$385, premium economy class tickets from US$694, and business class tickets from US$1158. Note the word “from.” Qantas was charging a premium for a window seat – and that’s fair enough.
But with 24 seats initially available for sale in both the business class and premium economy cabins, and 112 seats initially up for grabs in the economy class cabin, Qantas pocketed over US$87,500 from ticket sales.
To date, Qantas has been operating many of these flights largely on a cost-recovery basis. The airline is keen to keep planes and crews in the air and the Qantas brand firmly in the spotlight. But as the popularity of the supermoon and previous scenic flights attests, there is a lot of demand out there for this kind of flight. It’s an interesting, albeit niche, way for the airline industry to do business in the future.
Eviation Is Closer To Launching Commercial Electric Airplane Service — Alice Gets An EPU
Eviation Aircraft, which is developing and manufacturing efficient electric aircraft with the goal of making electric aviation a competitive and sustainable alternative to the current aircraft we have today, is one step closer to launching commercial electric flights. I has taken delivery of its first EPU (electric propulsion unit) for its first aircraft, Alice.
The Alice is an all-electric aircraft that is able to fly 9 passengers for up to 440 nautical miles. The Alice uses an EPU from magniX, a company that is on a mission to lead the commercial aerospace and defense industries. How it’s doing this is by providing high-performance, reliable, and environmentally friendly propulsion solutions. The EPU used by Alice is one such solution. These magniX EPU systems have been powering aircraft in flight since December of 2019, and are currently in the process of gaining FAA Part 33 certification in 2022.
Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay shared his thoughts about the milestone. “The magniX delivery is one of the key milestones in getting emission-free, low-cost, all-electric aviation off the ground with the first flight of Alice,” he said. “After many successful flights and tests of the magniX EPUs, we’re confident the system will propel us to bringing Alice to market and delivering a sustainable, scalable mobility solution that will revolutionize passenger and cargo flights.”
Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, also added his thoughts. “The Alice is the epitome of the future of air transportation. All-electric by design, taking advantage of light-weight powerful and reliable propulsion systems,” said Ganzarski. “Together, we will enable a great flying experience – zero emissions, quieter, lower cost, all from and to airports closer to more communities.”
Eviation has plans to start a robust flight testing and certification program. Currently, the company operates in the U.S. and Israel and is a member of the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA).
Brace: Qantaslink Dash 8-400 Makes Emergency Landing In Brisbane
On Thursday, sixty-four passengers and crew on a QantasLink Dash 8-400 service into Brisbane got a scare during a full-scale emergency landing. With the pilots flagging a “potential issue” with the landing gear, emergency vehicles waited at Brisbane Airport, and passengers instructed to “stay down” and “brace now.”
Cockpit alert regarding issues with QantasLink Dash 8’s landing gear
The QantasLink Dash 8-400 was operating QF2420. That flight is the breakfast time flight between Newcastle’s Williamtown Airport and the Queensland capital of Brisbane. Normally, it’s a pleasant 611-kilometer flight up the New South Wales coast. On Thursday’s flight, the pilots received an indication in the cockpit about a potential issue with the landing gear.
According to The Aviation Herald, the plane was at 1,800 feet mean sea level and tracking into Brisbane’s runway 19L when the cockpit alert came up, causing the go-around.
The Dash 8 went out to circle Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands for around one hour while the pilots worked on the problem. The pilots attempted a manual gear extension, but the manual extension did not stop the cockpit alert.
“The pilots followed standard procedures and required checklists for this type of event,” a Qantaslink spokesperson said.
Passengers warned to “brace” and “stay down”
The pilots were unable to confirm the landing gear was locked down. They decided to shut down the second engine and began an ILS approach into Brisbane Airport’s runway 19R. Brisbane Airport scrambled its emergency response vehicles.
As the flight made its final approach into Brisbane Airport over Moreton Bay, footage posted online reveals the flight attendant repeatedly instructing the passengers to “brace, brace” and “heads down” and “stay down.”
“We were reasonably certain the landing gear was down and locked – we could do that visually, and in other ways, the procedure to be followed has to be followed,” QantasLink CEO John Gissing later told Brisbane’s Channel 9 News. “And that’s exactly what we did.”
“Our engineers have inspected the aircraft and identified that the alert in the cockpit was due to a faulty sensor, and the landing gear was operating normally through the flight.”
Footage posted online by passengers showed a smooth touchdown, the landing gear securely locked in, and a cabin full of very relieved passengers and crew.
“I was getting a bit concerned at the end,” one passenger said when safely collecting his bags in Brisbane’s terminal.
“Brace! Brace! Stay down!”#WATCH: The moment a Qantas flight from #Newcastle was forced to make an emergency landing in Brisbane Airport this morning, leaving passengers to brace in the safety position. #9News pic.twitter.com/ePFPhj1hRW
— 9News Queensland (@9NewsQueensland) May 13, 2021
QantasLink and passengers praise the crew
QantasLink calls the incident a false alarm. However the airline admits it would have raised blood pressure levels in the cabin. QantasLink apologized for the concern caused and thanked passengers for their co-operation.
Both passengers and QantasLink praised the pilots and flight attendants for handling a very stressful situation well.
“They did a great job handling the situation and were able to call on the extensive training they receive,” Mr Gissing said.
“We’re all here, it’s all good, the Captain did a good job,” one laidback and safely landed Queenslander said.
VH-QON operated Thursday’s QF2420 flight. The Dash 8-400 is 12.9 years old and operated for Qantas by subsidiary company Sunstate Airlines. It is one of 48 Dash 8s flying for QantasLink. As you’d expect from an airline with an exemplary safety record, this is the first recorded issue concerning the plane.
VH-QON remains on the ground while Qantas engineers conduct a full safety and maintenance inspection.
Qantas Future Small Plane: The Embraer E2 Family Vs Airbus A220
With Qantas planning to replace its aging fleet of Fokker jets and Boeing 717s, aircraft manufacturers are competing for the lucrative order. Boeing lacks a plane in the regional jet space. But Airbus has the A220, and Embraer has its E2 jets. For Qantas, it looks like being a run-off between these two plane makers.
Passenger capacity one metric to compare the planes
While it’s not just about passenger capacity, it is one way to measure how the Embraer and Airbus offering stack up.
Qantas’ Boeing 717s seat between 110 and 125 passengers. Its Fokker 100s seat 100 passengers. Qantas uses these planes on skinnier trunk routes, regional routes, fly-in-fly-out routes, and charter work. The planes, especially the Fokkers, can fly into some pretty challenging airstrips.
Embraer has three jets in its E2 family, ranging from the 80-90 seat E175-E2 to the 135-145 seat E195-E2. Airbus offers the A220-100 and A220-300. The A220-100 seats between 100-135 passengers and the bigger A220-300 can seat between 120-150 passengers.
Other all-important factors in the choice include final price, range, robustness, operating costs, maintenance costs, and green credentials.
Airbus gets in early to line-up potential order from Qantas
The Airbus A220 is popular in North American and Europe but has not yet gained significant sales traction in the Asia-Pacific region. But that has not stopped Airbus from touting the plane throughout the region. In October 2019, Airbus sent an A220-300 on a seven-country Asia-Pacific showcase tour.
That tour included a pitstop in Sydney and a demonstration flight that included Qantas CEO Alan Joyce among the passengers.
“To me, it looks like a very good aircraft,” Mr Joyce said at the time. “I think passengers would love it.”
The A220-100 might be a better fit for Qantas. Its passenger capacity better matches that of the existing Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s. The Airbus A220-100 has a range of 6.390 kilometers, comfortably covering the entire Australian continent and reaching into much of southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific.
Embraer’s E2 jet cannot be ruled out
While Airbus gets a lot of the attention in the race to snare the Qantas order, you cannot rule out Embraer. Speaking to the Perth branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society this week, Paulo Dias, Asia-Pacific Sales Director for Embraer Commercial Aircraft, said that while the A220 was an admirable plane, Embraers E2 jets had some distinct advantages that made it an ideal choice for Qantas.
“I think the A220 is a great airplane,” he said. “I think one of the benefits of the E2s would be the lower operating costs. That’s what this machine was made for – lower fuels burn, it’s a greener machine, and of course, maintenance costs.
“Designing an aircraft is all about trade offs. You can’t have everything. For this aircraft (the E2) we have optimized economics. It’s got the best fuel burn and maintenance costs hands down.
“Anyone looking at these aircraft would quickly recognise the E2’s profit potential compared to other platforms out there.”
Is Airbus a better for Qantas?
Qantas is continually chasing profits, making Paulo Dias’ comments a gentle but perfect pitch to Qantas. But the E175-E2 may be too small for Qantas requirements, noting one of the aircraft types Qantas wants to replace is the 110-125 seat Boeing 717. The next plane up, the 135-145 seat E190-E2 may be too big to take over routes now served by the 100 seat Fokker 100s.
Would Qantas consider splitting its order between two aircraft types – the E175-E2 and E90-ED2, taking some of both? Or does the A220-100 hit the happy middle ground for Qantas? As Paulo Dias notes, they are all excellent planes offering solid cost efficiencies and good environmental credentials. Qantas is expected to announce an order to begin to replace its Fokker 100s and Boeing 717s within the next 12 months Many might argue Embraer will have to put in a lot of legwork to snare this lucrative order from Qantas.
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