European plane maker Airbus on Monday delivered the first A350 to a customer, as Qatar Airways officially accepted the 283-seat twinjet. Just one week earlier, Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker created a sensation by refusing the planned delivery of the airplane, upending a scheduled ceremony and creating a sensation in the airline industry. Was the boss of one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines calling the newest passenger jet a lemon?
Fears that Qatar’s rejection would bode ill for Airbus were dispelled on Monday, when Al Baker said “we are receiving the newest and most modern aircraft that the world will see for at least another decade,” according to a company statement. Aviation analysts said the initial rejection had been due most likely to the appearance of the cabin rather than structural problems.
The A350, launched in 2006, will enter service next month on the Doha to Frankfurt route. Airbus officially calls it the A350 XWB in reference to its "extra wide body," which lets airlines install wider seats if they prefer, or go for additional capacity. Its direct rival, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, was launched in 2004 and entered service in 2011. It has sold 1,055 units.
Qatar Airways is the biggest customer for the Airbus jet, with 80 on order. It has bought more than 10 percent of the 780 sold so far. Most of the orders, from 40 airlines and lessors, are for the midsize 900 model, which seats around 300 passengers and can fly nonstop up to 8,700 miles. The stretched A350-1000, which hasn’t flown yet, can fly 350 people up to 9,300 miles and has sold 169 units so far. The smaller A350-800, which also hasn’t flown, may be canceled due to poor sales; only three airlines have ordered it, with only 26 planes on the books.
According to industry publication Flightglobal, the numbers add up to at least seven years of production.
Emirates, one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, had 70 on order but canceled them earlier this year to focus on the higher-capacity, double-decker Airbus A380. That cancellation resulted in dozens of delivery slots freeing up, which industry sources say was a key factor in convincing Delta Airlines to order the Airbus jet in November, in a major coup for Airbus over Boeing.
The Qatar Airways A350-900 will be configured with 36 business class seats that convert to flat beds plus 247 economy class seats with up to a 32-inch pitch, or distance between seats.