Qatar Airways underscored its endorsement of the largest variant of Airbus’s new A350 XWB last week by raising its firm order count for the A350-1000 to 37 from 20. The contract amendment also added three A350-900s to its previous order for 17, but it effectively scrapped Qatar’s firm order for 20 A350-800s.
The decision by Qatar comes as trends suggest a shift in interest to widebodies larger than those in the sector occupied by the 270-seat A350-800. The A350-1000, which would typically seat 350 passengers, poses a threat to the existing Boeing 777s and has prompted Boeing’s pursuit of an advanced widebody known as the 777X.
A major customer for the Boeing 777, Qatar ranks as one of the most influential operators in the Middle East and its CEO, Akbar Al Baker, rarely shies from voicing strong opinions about specific products or a manufacturer’s management of programs.
“We have taken the time necessary to come to today’s decision in favor of the larger A350 XWB models, which we believe are best suited to our business model,” said Al Baker.
Separately last week, Airbus finished building the main structural assembly and system connection of the first A350 XWB flight-test aircraft, MSN-001. The aircraft rolled out of the main assembly hall (Station 40) at the recently inaugurated “Roger Béteille” A350 final assembly line in Toulouse. It then entered the adjacent indoor ground-test station (Station 30).
The assembly work performed in Station 40 included the successful electrical “power-on” of the aircraft’s entire fuselage and wings. Plans call for work in Station 30 to start “soon” with testing the airplane’s hydraulic system, followed by full electric and hydraulic power-on, scheduled for completion around year-end. That milestone would mark the start of several weeks of comprehensive functional system testing.
After removing MSN-001 from Station 30, Airbus plans to conduct a series of production and certification/development tests, paint the airplane and install its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofans. Schedules then call for delivery to the flight line ahead of planned first flight some time around the middle of next year.