Qatar Airways was set to be the first airline to get an Airbus A350 this week, but the Doha-based carrier announced Wednesday that it was delaying delivery of the new long-range twin-engine aircraft. The airline is the launch customer for the jet, the first major commercial aircraft to be introduced since the Boeing 787, its direct rival, entered service in 2011. News of the delay caused a stir in the aviation industry, and the price of Airbus shares fell 10.4 percent in Paris on Wednesday, but experts say that the move does not signal larger problems with the A350.
While the airline did not cite a reason for the postponement, Jason Rabinowitz, a research manager at Routehappy.com who specializes in commercial aviation manufacturers, said that he doubts the delay means that the A350 has engineering issues. “It’s par for the course with Qatar at this point,” he said. “The delay isn’t totally shocking. Qatar is a very exacting airline when it comes to minor details. This wasn’t a technical or engineering issue -- it was most likely due to the interior.”
This isn’t the first time Qatar has refused delivery of a new Airbus plane, added Rabinowitz. The airline delayed delivery of its first Airbus A380 by three months earlier this year due to concerns about the interior. According to CEO Akbar Al Baker, the delay cost the airline $200 million in lost revenue. And in 2012, the airline also delayed delivery of its first 787 Dreamliner from Boeing.
Rabinowitz said it was never completely clear why Qatar delayed the A380, but “most of the information we had was that the interior products weren’t quite up to the level of perfection Qatar expects. Maybe the galley wasn’t perfectly aligned, or the carpeting wasn’t just the way they wanted it.”
The A350 that was set to be delivered Wednesday was also going to be the first in commercial service, with the first revenue flight planned for Jan. 15 between Doha and Frankfurt, Germany. It’s unclear whether the delay will change the inaugural flight date, but Rabinowitz expects the matter to be resolved quickly. Both Airbus and Qatar have signaled as much, he said. And Qatar has not announced a change of date for the plane’s inaugural service.
"Both entities are committed to introducing the A350 very soon,” Qatar Airways said in a statement. Meanwhile, Airbus CEO Tom Enders told investors at an event in London on Wednesday, “The plane is ready, it’s on the tarmac, I’m confident delivery will be very soon.”
The Airbus A350 is the company’s response to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, another fuel-efficient jet made of carbon fiber, which suffered numerous setbacks and delays. But the Dreamliner’s major problems had to do with its lithium ion batteries, something that’s not an issue with the A350.
“Both Airbus and Qatar have been very happy with the A350 flight testing and production itself,” said Rabinowitz. “I think both parties want to get this done as soon as possible.”