Airbus Warming to Jumbo-Sized A350 Able to Take on Boeing's 777X

  • Larger version of wide-body jet could carry 396 passengers
  • European company working on proposal with key airline clients

Airbus Group SE said it’s stepping up work with airlines to determine whether a bigger variant of the A350 wide-body jetliner would make sense as it seeks to challenge the order success of Boeing Co.’s enlarged 777X.

The aircraft, a longer version of the A350-1000, itself already a so-called stretch model, would be just four seats shy of 400 in a three-class configuration, large enough to take on the biggest 777-9 planned by Boeing, Airbus said Tuesday at a briefing in Paris.

Airbus’s A350-900, introduced in 2014, typically seats 325, with the -1000, due to commence deliveries in 2017, offering 366 berths. While that’s sufficient to combat existing 777 variants and the upgraded 777-8, the 777-9 will accommodate as many as 425 seats and be “in a class by itself,” Boeing says.

“We’ve started to study what we could do on top of the A350-900 and A350-1000 because some airlines have asked us, and it’s our duty to look,” Fabrice Bregier, who heads Airbus’s planemaking arm, said in Paris.

A380 Risk

Jumbo-sized twin-engine wide-bodies have become a focus for Airbus and Boeing as airlines move away from less fuel-efficient four-engine models. An enlarged A350 would come with risks for the European company since it could put more pressure on the A380 superjumbo, which sold just three units in 2015.

Airbus, which shelved the smallest A350-800 variant in 2014 amid lackluster sales in favor of a re-engined A330, said it hasn’t yet figured out the financial and engineering costs of a bigger plane, but regards interest from key airlines as sufficient to continue analyzing the potential market.

While Bregier said there’s no urgency in reaching a decision on a stretched plane, John Leahy, Airbus’s sales chief, said he’s pushing for decision in the next six months, since waiting much longer would give an advantage to Boeing, whose 777X series is due to begin deliveries in 2020.

“You want to be in the market sooner rather than later,” Leahy said.

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