Once the A380 program fully comes to a close, Airbus’ largest widebody in production will be the A350. Initially entering service in 2015, the A350 is also Airbus’ newest line of aircraft (excluding updated variants of older models like the A320 and A330). So why did Airbus build this aircraft and how has market response been? Let’s find out.
Responding to a dream
It has been largely accepted that the development of the A350 was a response to Boeing’s revolutionary 787 Dreamliner. Seeing its archrival create a highly advanced and ultra-efficient long-range widebody, Airbus had to respond with something equal or better.
The key aspects of the Dreamliner that Airbus had to compete with were range and efficiency. Range, of course, being a key result of efficiency. Boeing achieved this largely through the use of advanced materials such as carbon composite in addition to the strategic use of titanium and aluminum.
The end-result of Airbus’ endeavor was the A350XWB – the XWB standing for “extra wide body”. In fact, the A350 cabin is 12.7 cm (5.0 in) wider at the eye level of a seated passenger than the 787’s cabin. This width allows airlines to configure their cabins in a high-density 10-abreast configuration if they so desired.
The A350 also claims to have the quietest cabin on a twin-aisle aircraft with “the highest possible air quality with optimized cabin altitude, temperature and humidity” for passengers. A quieter cabin and optimized humidity were also big selling points for the 787, as were larger windows – which the A350 also features.
Aiming between the 787 and 777
Although many of the new and advanced features of the A350 mimic those of the 787, the A350 is wider and longer than the 787. In fact, the largest variant, the A350-1000, competes directly with the Boeing 777-300 and -300ER in both capacity and range.
The A350-1000 has a range of 14,800 km (7,992 nm) while the 777-300ER has a range of 14,600 km (7,884 nm). The former has a seating capacity of 369 while the latter can seat closer to 365. Of course, this all depends on cabin configuration and seating choice.
Therefore, another reason Airbus built the A350 was to compete more directly with Boeing’s largest passenger jets.
Airlines have responded quite well to the A350. To date, Airbus has over 900 orders for the two variants of the aircraft. However, if its main competition is the 787, it still has some catching up to do as the Dreamliner has nearly 1,500 orders logged for its three variants. A big reason for this lead, however, is the fact that the 787 entered service roughly four and a half years earlier than the A350.
Additionally, Airbus’ newest model has not come with the same unexpected issues as seen with the launch of the 787. This includes lithium-ion battery issues and problems with the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine. Both of these problems caused extensive groundings for the Dreamliner.
Based on the timing, specifications, and features offered, we can comfortably say that the A350 was built as an answer to both the Boeing 787 and 777. Aiming firmly between the two Boeing aircraft allows Airbus to capture both markets whilst offering a good degree of commonality with the rest of the Airbus family.
Having been in service for five years now, accumulating a respectable list of happy customers, we’re quite certain the A350 will be around for quite some time.
Why do you think Airbus built the A350? Is there something we missed? Let us know in the comments.