Why Did Airbus Build The A350?

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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.

Airbus, No Orders, February
Aeroflot took delivery of its first Airbus A350 in February of 2020. Photo: Getty Images

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.

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The A350 has been fairly well received by airlines with no major issues being reported. Photo: Getty Images

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.

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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.

Airbus will likely see a rejigging or cancellation of orders this year. Photo: Airbus

Airline response

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.

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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.

Aeroflot record revenues 2019
To date, 930 orders have been placed for the A350’s two variants. Photo: Getty Images

Conclusion

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.

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Pete

I’ve been flying the A350 for over a year now and I have to admit, the fit, finish and attention to detail is superior to any Boeing I have ever flown.
Even with the autopilot off it is impossible to stall. Once Alpha Floor is reached the autothrottles engage and power is applied to prevent a stall.
TCAS function is literally hands off. If an RA (resolution alert) is sensed the autopilot automatically climbs or descends based on the guidance given and returns the assigned altitude.
It’s amazing quiet. Lands like a dream and it incredibly powerful (84,000+ t****t/engine).

Paul

“Range, of course, being a key result of efficiency”

I think this isn’t a general rule, as reducing range would reduce the fuel load and thus improve efficiency, and it would make more sense to think of it as a compromise between range and efficiency.After all one only needs to look at the dated, yet in my opinion still relevant, example of the dassault mercure, which is a great example of an aircraft design trading range for efficiency

Mick

Which carriers operate at 10 abreast seating ? – i will avoid at all costs !!

Andrew Heenan

My (fallible) memory says that Airbus’ initial response to the B787 was to offer new variants of the A330: it was pressure from airlines to build a completely new ‘plane, hence a year of indecision and the 4-year lag on Boeing.
And, as ever, the airlines had a new agenda by the time the A350 appeared, with greater success for the previously underselling A321 variants, with the LR/XLR doing just great.
The A350 is still a fine aircraft, and it is a success, of course, but not the one predicted for it (and the same applies to the B787).
Which partly explains Boeing’s dilemma with the B797 – which gap in the range should they plug? Should they follow the market, or find a way to anticipate it?
In my humble opinion, they should go for a slightly larger all-new replacement for the B737. Partly because of the MAX issue, partly because the B737 is a very old airframe, arguably tweaked once too often. But mainly because that sector of the market will always be with us (at least for the next few decades, anyway.
This leaves Airbus’ next new ‘plane to be an A330 replacement, perhaps a little smaller, to avoid having to further stretch the A321, while a smaller A350 variant would plug the gap at the higher end of the A330’s current market.

Eli

I flew on a Delta A 350 from DTW to ICN. Nicest plane I’ve ever been on.

Mark

I don’t think the 12 cm cabin width is a substantial increase compared to the B737 cabin, considering that ABus had the chance of come up with a design that could be improved versus the B. In addition 200 miles difference in mile range is not such a difference to go with A. Also 4 seats difference is not another thing that will make me change my to go with A.

JFP

“Why Did Airbus Build The A350?” Because they could. And, Boeing wasn’t.

Hein Vandenbergh

I think the most important key to the A350’s success was the fact that the CEO of one of the world’s largest leasing companies, Steve Udvar-Hazy (I think that’s the correct spelling) tols Airbus to NOT just go with the re-engined A330 line, but to build a wider body twin. And, hey presto, there is your A350. I have flown – all three back to back, a number of times – the A330, B787 and the A350, buss class albeit but 3 different airlines, and there is no doubt in my mind that the A350 beats the others in a number of parameters. It deserves its success, and it is a tribute to Airbus that it listened to a good customer, even though that advice came at the cost of sugnificant new investment in new technology. From the airlines’ perspective, of course the A350 was lucky to not be hobbled by a supplier’s poor quality product, namely the lousy engines supplied by RR to a large portion of the B787 fleet. A lucky s****e on an intrinsically great aircraft.

C S Tan.

I have read that the A350 was also built to replace the 4 engine A340. Replacing the long haul model with a twin engine fuel efficirnt plane. Eg. Singapore Airlines has replaced its A340 long haul Singapore-New York route with the A350.

The replacement has been well received from most accounts.

Not unlike the Boeing 777, or perhaps following its footsteps, the 2 large engines look very re-assuring !!

Gabor Szilagyi

Hate the three three three configuration

Haresh Shivdasani

In competition between Boeing and Airbus the customer benefits but there should be funds to buy and utility avlbl.this recent trend long haul flts point to point is attraction for both manufacturers

Simon Brown

Nope, I think you got it all there. Airbus build really boring, really efficient, really reliable, really safe aircraft. It takes some of the soul out of flying but also means that, for passengers flying in their planes, there’ll be a few more souls left living 😉
The clue is in the brand name I guess airBUS they want their planes to be as dependable as a bus. Which is fair enough.

Maurizio

I think that there Is missing a stetched version as A 350 1100 to increase the capacity of seats
And a version with GE engines that are probably Better than RR

Joe

The first time I flew on an A350 was with Thai Airways out of Phuket. Compared to the 777 with which I arrived, it was miles ahead. The cabin was brighter and quieter, and the windows were massive. On another flight, I didn’t have a window seat, but could still comfortably look out — even though I was in the middle row! While I like the 777, I think the A350 is the long-haul, high-capacity plane of the future, and I hope more airlines buy it so that I can have more flights on it.

Charudatta Rane

Just to be in competition with 787 family.

Greg B

Boeing was brilliant in seducing Airbus into believing it was building larger 747s. which pressured Airbus into building the A380. Boeing new this would be a huge failure… Announcing the 787 soon after.