During the runup to the Dubai Airshow, European airframer Airbus was still putting the spotlight firmly on its A350XWB. Last month it launched a new ultra-long-range version, the A350-900 ULR, which can fly 8,700 nm (16,000 km). Singapore Airlines (SIA) came on board as launch customer, switching seven aircraft from its existing A350 order to the new variant.
In addition, the Asian carrier has placed an additional order for four A350-900s, taking its total firm orders for the A350 XWB family to 67. To date, Airbus has recorded a total of 783 firm orders for the A350 XWB from 41 customers worldwide, and is now ahead of the Boeing 787 in terms of firm order book.
While deliveries of SIA’s A350-900 ULR are scheduled to begin in 2018, the first A350-900 for the airline has been painted in Toulouse and is now ready to start the next stages of production, including the installation of engines and cabin furnishing, before starting ground and flight tests. Delivery is scheduled in the first quarter of 2016.
The A350-900 ULR will be able to fly non-stop for up to 19 hours, and is optimized to serve the world’s longest commercial passenger routes such as Singapore-New-York. SIA previously operated non-stop services from its home base to New York and Los Angeles between 2004 and 2013 using the four-engines A340-500. The carrier stopped this because it cost too much. However with the A340-500 also having been sold to Emirates and Etihad, they could also be interested in the A350-900 ULR, though Airbus has not yet commented on this.
“The new twin-engine A350 ULR, with its improvement of the fuel burn performance over the A340, allows us to re-open those routes, a strong demand from our customers,” an SIA spokesman told AIN.
According to Airbus, the fuel cost of the A350 is 32-percent lower than for the A340. Moreover, “the A350 offers a larger cabin, more comfort, new mood lights and a Wi-Fi connection,” added the spokesman. SIA is considering other non-stop routes, such as Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami.
The A350-900 ULR incorporates a number of changes over the standard A350-900. These include a higher capacity fuel system within the existing fuel tanks, increasing fuel carrying capacity from 141,000 litres (37,248 U.S. gallons) to 165,000 litres (43,588 U.S. gallons), supported by an MTOW increase to 280 tons (from 272-275 tons with the standard version). For comparison, the MTOW of the A340-500 was 372 tons.
The extended-range capability is achieved without installing additional fuel tanks and the aircraft can be reconfigured easily to the standard A350-900 long-haul specification. “These adaptions are made to the fuel system computer, and to the air venting and inert gas distribution piping in the wing,” explained an official from Airbus. Some additional localized reinforcement of the structure will be made.
Regarding the A350XWB program, Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier reported that the program remains “perfectly on track” for delivery of 15 airplanes this year, although he acknowledged that “A350 ramp-up is, of course, challenging.” Brégier said that Airbus will more than double deliveries in 2016, and will reach a monthly rate of 10 aircraft by the beginning of 2018.
A350 launch customer Qatar Airways, which has ordered 80, is to have received seven aircraft by the end of 2015. As of mid-October the airline had four in service with average daily utilization of 11 hours. Three more will be delivered to Finnair, which received its first aircraft on October 7 (see ainonline.com, October 7, A350 ‘Perfectly on Track’ as Airbus Delivers Finnair’s First); one to Latam; and two to Vietnam Airlines. Next year, some Asian and Gulf carriers will receive their first A350s, including Singapore Airlines (which has 67 on order), Etihad (62) and Cathay Pacific (46).
Airbus remains confident about Emirates, which cancelled its 70 orders in June 2014, with the carrier reconsidering both the A350-900 and the Boeing 787-10. Even if Emirates doesn’t decide until 2016, the airframer stated that the A350-900 “is a natural replacement for 777s, A340s and 787s.” For instance, Qatar replaced 787-8s with the A350, Vietnam Airlines is replacing its 777-200ERs with the type and Finnair is replacing its old A340-300.
The A350-1000, a longer version of theA350-900, which can seat 366 passengers in a three-class cabin layout, is often ordered in combination with the -900. Half of the major A350XWB customers have ordered both the A350 models, notably Qatar Airways and Etihad. Brégier confirmed that entry into service of the A350-1000 was planned for the summer of 2017. According to Airbus, the A350-1000 will offer an extra 400 nm range and a 15-percent lower trip cost compared to the in-development Boeing 777-9X.
Airbus is installing the first Rolls-Royce Trent engine for the A350-1000 on its A380 flying test bed ready to start flight-testing. This first campaign will prove quite short and end with the first flight of theA350-1000, scheduled for mid-2016, said Airbus. Certification of the program will involve three flight-test aircraft.
In terms of production, Airbus plants at Broughton, UK, Saint-Nazaire, France, and Hamburg, Germany have all started to deliver their shipsets to Toulouse for the start of final assembly in the first quarter of next year.
Airbus has been working to modify its final assembly line in Toulouse ready to incorporate the new variant. When AIN visited the factory, at the beginning of October, some 26 aircraft were in various stages of production on the final assembly line, up to the MSN 42. “And we have started production of the MSN 56,” said Airbus.
The production cycle at Toulouse, which now takes more than eight months, will reach between seven and 11 weeks by the end of 2017.
Cabin furnishing is now accomplished in another hall. But by the end of 2016 this process will be done in the main assembly hall, during the assembly process, to help cut the lead-time.