Last updated: 02:30 PM ET, Fri March 04 2016

Airbus Gauging Interest in New High Capacity A350

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 04, 2016

Airbus Gauging Interest in New High Capacity A350

Photo via Wikipedia

Airbus is gauging interest in a possible 400-seat version of its long range two-engine A350 passenger jet. Of course, Airbus currently makes the largest passenger plane in the world, the A380. This four-engine, double-decker giant can hold up to 544 people in a four-class layout and as many as 853 in a single-class setup.

However, airlines have been focused on smaller, more fuel efficient airplanes in recent years. Dropping oil prices have helped interest in jumbo jets a little bit, but the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 are not earning as many orders as more efficient two-engine jets, which are now at the top of most commercial carriers’ to-order lists.

Trying to give airlines what they want

This is the reason why Airbus is looking seriously at an updated version of the two-engine A350. The idea of adding capacity to more-fuel-efficient models has already proven successful for the French plane-maker's main competitor, Boeing. Airbus' rival has gotten a fair bit of interest for its 777X models, which include both the 777-8 and the 777-9. The 777-9 has a seating capacity of 406. The 9's large number of seats and fuel efficient design will allow airlines to get a good cost-per-seat ratio.

READ MORE: Enjoy Watching the Majesty of an Airbus A350 Airplane Being Made

The newest version of the A350 will likewise have a 400-plus seat setup. This will tie the 777. Why not try to beat Boeing by a wide margin when it comes to capacity? Because the number of seats is not the only variable that airlines are interested in. High capacity does not matter much if higher operating costs come along with it. The gas guzzling A380 has proved this point. 

It's about cost per seat

The head of the Airbus sales department, John Leahy, explains that Airbus will attempt to beat Boeing by making the new A350 cheaper to operate: “It would have similar capacity and range (as the 777-9) and substantially lower seat-mile costs." The upgrade is necessary if Airbus wants to compete. Its latest A350 model, the 1000, has only had about half as many orders as Boeing’s 777-9.

What does this mean for passengers?

The new A350, which will be the 1100 if the number pattern holds, should have some high-tech features and state of the art IFE systems, but there is also a worrying trend (from the passenger’s perspective). Airlines are demanding both more seats and more fuel efficiency in their quest for lower seat-mile costs. The worry is that this could lead to new planes with even less leg room.

READ MORE: How Airbus Is Using Technology to Defeat Jet Lag, Drones

Of course the A350 and 777 are very long, and each subsequent model has become increasingly lighter and, therefore, more fuel efficient. So increased efficiency is as important as packing in as many seats as possible into the available cabin space. At the same time, Airbus and Boeing will give airlines what they want (otherwise they would not stay in business for long). So if carriers want extra rows of seats in their new Airbus A350s, that is probably what they will get. 


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