Airbus’ Next Big Plane Hits Program Delay
Photo by Paul Thompson
Airlines order their planes years in advance, and plan their routes in accordance with what aircraft are in their fleet and the capabilities of said planes. So when a manufacturer says a plane won’t be delivered on time, it really throws a wrench in those plans. For Airbus’ newest aircraft, the A350-1000, that’s exactly what is happening.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the delivery timeline for Airbus’ new A350-1000 has slipped by at least a few months, to the second half of 2017. On Wednesday, Airbus said, “We have adapted the A350-1000 schedule to ensure we fully satisfy our customers’ requirements for a mature aircraft from day one.” It’s not uncommon for the ambitious development schedule of a new commercial aircraft to face a delay for one reason or another.
The first airline to receive a new plane type is known as the “launch customer.” And being a launch customer has its pros and cons. The pros are that your airline is the first to have the shiny new plane that people want to fly for the first time. You get to boast that you’re the only one offering such modern amenities and comfort. In addition, launch customers are often given significant discounts if they order the planes in bulk.
The negative side of being a launch customer is that no other airline has put the plane through its daily paces with passengers. Although the manufacturers test new planes rigorously during the certification process, it’s not the same as using it in an operational scenario.
For the A350-1000, the launch customer is Qatar Airways. Qatar also received the first A350-900, in January 2015. The airline placed orders for 80 A350s, combined between the two types. Their CEO, Akbar Al Baker is known for being outspoken and a man who demands perfection. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or course. When you’re spending billions of dollars on planes, the manufacturer should get it right the first time. Al Baker has been known for rejecting deliveries of aircraft that fell short of what was promised by the manufacturer — with the rejections usually related to the aircraft passenger cabin.
Airbus has blamed supplier bottlenecks for slowing production. The company had originally promised to deliver 50 A350-900s this year, but had only delivered nine through May. Part of that bottleneck is caused by French cabin outfitter Zodiac Aerospace, who has been unable to meet demand for lavatory production to be installed on each plane.
Airbus is also struggling to deliver an updated version of its workhorse narrow-body jet, the A320neo. Airbus has manufactured A320s since the 1980s, but the “neo” stands for New Engine Option. One of the two new engines being offered on the A320neo is Pratt & Whitney’s PW1100G engine. It happens to be Qatar Airways once again who was the A320neo launch customer — however, Al Baker opted to reject their first delivery due to some unresolved software issues with the PW1100G. Instead, Lufthansa ended up taking delivery of the first A320neo.
The A350-1000 is expected to seat about 366 people, and fly up to 9,000 miles. Its carbon fiber fuselage weighs less than traditional planes, making it more fuel-efficient and giving it greater range. Through May, airlines had placed orders for 181 of these planes. Here in the United States, American Airlines, Delta and United will all be receiving A350s.
Interestingly, the A350 is a similar aircraft in size and capability to the Boeing 787, which American and United already have in their fleet. American inherited the A350 orders with its U.S. Airways merger. To this point, the Airbus A350 program has gone relatively smoothly, whereas Boeing’s 787 program was delayed by years, also caused by supply chain issues.
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