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Airbus to Stick With A350-800 Even as Airlines Favor Bigger Jets

Airbus SAS said it will stick with the smallest variant of its A350 wide-body plane to provide a challenger for every version of Boeing Co.’s 787, even after initial customer Qatar Airways Ltd. switched to a bigger model.

While Qatar’s decision today to almost double its A350-1000 backlog to 37 while dropping an order for 20 smaller -800s highlights a trend toward larger jets, scrapping the baseline plane would leave Airbus vulnerable to the similar 787-9, Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said in an interview.

Airbus’s older A330, which won some earlier competitions against Boeing’s Dreamliner, doesn’t have the range to combat the 787-9 and even the 787-8, Leahy said, adding: “For the longer range you’ll need the A350-800.”

Airbus is meanwhile looking at increasing production of the A330 to 11 planes a month, up from 9.5 now and 10 next spring, Leahy said. December order figures, to be announced in January, may reveal positive news on A330 orders from China, which had held back on contracts until the European Union suspended fees to be levied on flights for carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

Leahy, also Airbus’s sales chief, will fly to China this evening after speaking with financial analysts in London today.

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