Following the first flight on June 14 of the Airbus A350 XWB, AIN had an opportunity to interview John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer, customers, about the historic event.
What can you say about today’s flight?
There is nothing much else to say. It was just about a perfect test flight of a brand new aircraft type. You saw the takeoff, but did you hear the takeoff? It was so quiet that you could not probably hear it. Some people even thought it was an all-electric airplane, because it was so quiet. It did a four-hour test-flight, not just around the barrier, four hours up in the air! Exploring the flight envelope, going to 80 percent of the speed of sound, going to slow flight. Prior to landing, the pilots did a slow past over the runway at a thousand feet and then came in and landed. This is a game-changing airplane. It is really what the market wants. It flies further than today’s airplanes. It has bigger seats, wider aisles, it has a brand new, highly-appealing flight entertainment system. It has a greater all-round efficiency. But it is also environmentally friendly.
Will there be new customers for the A350 during the air show?
We do not say about new orders before an air show because we do not have these orders now.
Is it possible to fly the airplane at Le Bourget?
I hope we can fly the airplane at the air show, but again it is a flight test program. What is important to me is that we flew the airplane before the air show. Despite some of the naysayers out there in the industry we did it! And I was just taking to the pilot a few minutes ago and he said it was beautiful as it went through the flight envelope, he was very happy about it.
The A350 looks like bigger than the Boeing Dreamliner. Is it big enough to compete with the 777X?
It certainly is. It is an all-new airplane and no longer a paper airplane. Just as we started out with [the original] A350, we said that we would use a proven fuselage of the A330. We said we’d carve out the inside by about four to five inches, we’d put a composite wing on it and a new engine. But what we left out was the folding wings [actually wingtips, a feature that Boeing patented in 1995 and may be included on the 777X]. But it did not work. Because a clean sheet of paper airplane like the 787 was able to beat it. That is exactly what the 777X is going to face. This a clean sheet of paper airplane. The 777X is a modification of an airplane that was designed and certified in 1995, and it will not be able to compete.
Does this mean that the 787-10 will kill the A330 once and for all?
I do not think so. We will see. It has to compete on price. Because you’ve got to look at the economics. It is about the capital cost. This airplane and the 787 are substantially more expensive than the A330. And the A330 with more than 99 percent dispatch reliability…when you put the capital cost in, you will have a lower a seat mile cost than the 787.
What do you feel when selling the A350?
I do very much enjoy selling this airplane because this airplane sells itself, and so I have a very easy job. More than 600 orders before the first flight! For the last five years this A350 has outsold 787 four to one! So, I am very proud that this airplane has sold itself.