Airbus SAS delayed introduction of its largest A350 wide-body aircraft by 18 months to meet demands for additional range and payload that will put the jet into more direct competition with Boeing Co (BA)’s 777-300ER.
Rolls-Royce Plc, the sole engine supplier on the jet, will improve the performance of the Trent XWB engine by enlarging the core and working with more advanced technologies, the two companies said at a joint press conference yesterday in Paris. The A350-1000 aircraft, which seats about 350 people, will cost $9 million more than the previous design and come out in 2017.
Airbus aims to crack the near monopoly of Boeing’s 777, which debuted in the 1990s, and the European manufacturer said its new A350-1000 will be 25 percent more fuel efficient and can carry 4.5 tons of additional weight. The change on the A350 coincides with Airbus challenging Boeing in the single-aisle market with new, more efficient engines for its A320 jet.
“We got feedback from customers, some quite vocal, and the message was that if we can get extra range, we should do it,” Fabrice Bregier, chief operating officer of Airbus, said in an interview in Paris yesterday.
The A350 comes in three variants, with the mid-sized A350-900 being the most popular model, accounting for more than 60 percent of total 574 orders. Airbus maintained planned delivery of its A350-900 for the end of 2013, with Bregier saying it would be “a race against the clock.” Four customers have ordered 75 A350-1000s to date, according to Airbus.
Airbus will also delay the smallest version of the A350, which seats 270 and for which it has 140 orders. That model won’t change, and the extended period gives Airbus breathing space to work on the A350-900 as well as the A320neo.
The changes on the largest variant include work on the landing gear and the outer part of the wing, Airbus said. The improved performance will allow the aircraft to service routes such as Shanghai to Boston or Paris to Santiago that are becoming increasingly popular, Airbus said. There will be no impact on earnings from the planned changes, the company said.
Boeing is studying modifications to defend the 16-year-old 777 against Airbus. The U.S. company will monitor Airbus for production schedules before deciding whether to improve the 777 or offer an all-new variant, Jim Albaugh, its commercial airplanes chief, said earlier this month.
The U.S. company is targeting improvements to its 777 family around 2015 that would include work on the wing and engines, according to Nicole Piasecki, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ head of business development.
“Once Airbus defines the A350-1000, we are prepared to make a much more significant investment in the 777,” she told journalists during a pre-show briefing this month.
The decision to do more work on the Trent XWB is among the first by Rolls-Royce Chief Executive Officer John Rishton, who took over from longtime CEO John Rose in May. Rolls-Royce has been granted exclusivity on the A350-1000 variant. Rolls-Royce has gained market share in the wide-body segment, with its Trent 700 powering the A330 family of Airbus aircraft, and the Trent 900 used on the A380 double-decker.
Qatar Airways is the first and largest customer for the A350, with 80 on order. The Mideast carrier said this month that it would like to see improvements to the model. International Lease Finance Corp., the world’s biggest plane leasing company by fleet value, has 20 A350s on order and has also said it favors a more powerful variant.
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