In a serious blow to Boeing, Japan Airlines (JAL) has signed a purchase agreement covering 18 A350-900s and 13 A350-1000s worth $9.5 billion at list prices. The deal, which also includes options on another 25 of the mostly composite widebodies, marks the first order from Japan for the A350 and Airbus’s first-ever order from JAL. But perhaps most important for Airbus, it represents a monumental incursion into traditional Boeing territory, where the Chicago-based aerospace giant has long enjoyed what amounts to a near monopoly due, in part, to its many industrial ties with Japanese aerospace suppliers.
JAL expects to take delivery of its first A350 some time in 2019 and plans to replace its aging fleet gradually over a six-year period.
“We will utilize to [the] maximum the A350 XWB, which offers high level of operational efficiency and product competitiveness, while positively catering to new business opportunities after slots at airports in Tokyo are increased,” said JAL president Yoshiharu Ueki. “In addition to improving profitability with advanced aircraft, we always aim to deliver unparalleled service to customers with the latest cabin and steady expansion of our route network.”
The relationship between Boeing and its Japanese customers has endured some strain over the past few years, attributable initially to more than three years of 787 delivery delays and more recently to in-service difficulties such as battery malfunctions in both JAL and ANA airplanes. The incidents led first to a grounding of the Japanese fleets by Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau, followed by a worldwide grounding that lasted some four months. However, Ueki denied that the 787 problems influenced JAL’s A350 order.
The first A350 XWB flying prototype has completed approximately 300 flight-test hours so far. The company expects five flight-test aircraft to accumulate 2,500 hours over the next year. Schedules call for the first A350-900 to enter service toward the end of next year. The latest commitment raises to 750 the number of A350s on firm order.