Qatar Airways Swaps Airbus Smallest A350 for Larger Variants

Qatar Airways Ltd., the launch customer for Airbus SAS’s long-range wide-body A350 XWB, dropped its order for 20 of the smallest versions to take larger ones, the planemaker said.

“This is in line with market trend, upsizing to larger models,” Marcella Muratore, a spokeswoman for Airbus, said today in an interview. Muratore said she had no information to provide on which of the larger variants Qatar will take.

The Qatar Airways decision leaves Airbus with a shrinking backlog for the smallest A350 variant, raising questions about whether it’ll stick with the model. The Toulouse-based planemaker has already seen several customers swap A350-800 orders for larger variants, most recently Afriqiyah Airways.

The A350-800 will seat 270, while the A350-900 can accommodate 314 passengers and the -1000 model can handle 350. The A350-900 is the most popular, and is set to enter service by late 2014, three years before the largest model. Muratore said Airbus remains committed to building the A350-800.

Airbus could probably save at least 1 billion euros ($1.27 billion) by dropping the smallest model and concentrating its engineering resources on developing the bigger and more expensive A350-1000, said Nick Cunningham, managing partner at Agency Partners in London.

“After this move by Qatar, that’s not looking like a launch for what is an expensive program,” said Cunningham. “It would seem logical to me for them to drop the -800 and focus on the -1000. That would free up engineering capacity and take costs out.”

FlightGlobal reported today that Qatar would exchange its A350-800 orders for A350-900s, citing the airline’s chief executive officer. A spokesman for the airline said he couldn’t immediately confirm the information.

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