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Airbus could lose its largest and most prominent A350 customer, Qatar Airways, because of its indecision over the aircraft’s configuration and the likelihood that it will adopt an all-new design.
The Qatari flag carrier – currently an all-Airbus operator – last year became the lead A350 customer when it announced at the Paris air show that it intended to order 60 of the twinjets for delivery from 2010 after an evaluation that included the rival Boeing 787. Although the airline later began to firm up the deal by signing a letter of intent for the 60 aircraft, it has held off signing a contract until Airbus finalises the aircraft’s performance and specification, says Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.
Confirmation by Airbus of its expected rethink would see the A330-based A350 design replaced by an all-new larger aircraft with a wider fuselage and larger wing.This would have an entry-into-service target up to two years later than previously planned.
“We are launch customer for an aircraft that, other than its model number, does not now exist. Qatar Airways is very unhappy about this,” says Al Baker. He questions how Airbus will “address this issue with A350 customers who have placed deposits”.
Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert said at last week’s ILA show that the A350 timetable would “depend on the changes we do”. Referring to customers who have already signed up to the aircraft, he said: “If you will get a better aircraft than you have ordered, then you will be happy.”
Al Baker says that in light of the development, Qatar “might be forced to re-evaluate the 787 and could get preferential delivery dates from Boeing”. Qatar Airways’ repeated requests since selecting the A350 in June last year that Airbus should revise the design have been “vindicated” by the manufacturer’s expected U-turn, says Al Baker. “The trouble is, Airbus has lost a year.” He says he expects Airbus to be able to show him a firm specification for the new design “by early June”.
The new A350’s delayed in-service date gives Qatar Airways some capacity headaches, so it is discussing the acquisition of A330/A340s or Boeing 777-200LR/300ERs.
Airbus says A350 customer feedback came 'too late' and admits to two year delay on new design
Airbus has taken a swipe at potential and existing customers for its A350 long-range twinjet for failing to supply timely feedback during the development effort, admitting that any newly-designed variant could not be ready until at least 2012.
In a hard-hitting interview with UK broadcaster BBC in its Hard Talk series, Airbus chief operating officer, Charles Champion, says the airframer "underestimated how much our customers wanted a competition between Airbus and Boeing with a new product from our side". He adds that "constructive criticism" that Airbus welcomes during the development phase of any new aircraft came "a bit late, maybe".