Airbus has celebrated EASA approval of their revolutionary new A350-900 aircraft, by sharing some pretty amazing shots of five A350XWB aircraft flying in formation.
Leeham News has put together a wonderful review of the program from the beginning to now, and it seemed a gallery review of the inside and out of this plane, sharing insights on the cabin innovations, was the only thing missing to complete the celebration. So here it is!
Formations and Foundations
The flight formations were pretty thrilling, and considering the size of this aircraft it shows great talent on behalf of the flight crew to fly this close, but my favourite formation is definitely the X-formation over the green mountains. It encapsulates the objective of this aircraft. X-Marks the Sweets Spot for Airbus and its customers. By developing a right-sized extra-wide-body aircraft, inside and out, Airbus has put itself in a good position to compete with Boeing’s equally impressive 787-9 Dreamliner and the new 777X, which Boeing has directly pitted against the A350XWB during its recent reveal of the 777X cabin features.
Of course, the Qatar Airways A350XWB has pride of place in the formation pictures, as the first customer to receive delivery. Qatar Airways’ CEO, His Excellency, Mr. Akbar Al Baker, expressed great excitement and anticipation for the A350XWB, during the unveiling of the airline’s first A380 this month in Hamburg. The airline has big plans for both of these big aircraft and given what I saw during the walk-through of the A380, I expect the Qatar A350XWB will feature similar interiors: attractive and comfortable, but not over the top.
The A350XWB Interiors Concept Cabin, as seen in Hamburg
During the Airbus tour of the A350 this spring in Hamburg, the manufacturer emphasized its catalogue interiors options and its own in-house design centre, and I don’t believe that is an accident. The manufacturer gains a lot by pushing airlines to stick to the catalogue on this one, expedited deliveries for one.
We’ve already had a peek at Finnair’s A350 XWB interiors configuration this year and that airline has adhered to the catalogue. Because of its market, and the advantages gained through the customisation already made to the A380, Qatar may have some additional aesthetic features on the A350XWB, but this is not an aircraft intended for design experimentation. It’s meant to be a comfortable aircraft, but not a show-piece. It’s a pretty capacity work-horse.
There’s nothing wrong with that, it fits the target market for the aircraft perfectly: allowing airlines to provide a better cabin experience at a predictable cost structure, quickly.
Heavy customisation always extends the delivery timeline. However, when we look at why Emirates cancelled its A350XWB orders–and consider whether that means that the airline will go for more Boeing 777-8 aircraft or more A380s or both–I’d wager that the lack of flexibility of cabin customisation played a part in the Emirates’ decision.
Sometimes catalogue works for an airline, other times it is diametrically opposed to an airline’s brand strategy. Emirates has built its quality reputation on setting the bar, not following the norm.
There is a compromise to be made, especially if options are available to acquire very attractive off-the-shelf equipment which can be reasonably tailored through trim and finish.
Virgin Australia’s recent Business Class introduction for the A330s and 777s is proof of that if ever I saw one.
Take a wonderfully designed seat off-the-shelf, allow a talented design company to play with the customisation without affecting any of the certification tolerances (what we call in the industry minor changes–changes which don’t intrinsically affect form, fit and function), and you can provide a unique cabin which transmits the airline’s unique brand language beautifully.
Given sufficient flexibility to play with the A350XWB interiors in this manner, we might find some very nice surprises coming our way from this aircraft. However, Airbus’ emphasis on the capabilities of its own design centre would lead us to believe that even limited customisation, like trim and finish alterations could be frowned upon.
Airlines ultimately control this decision, but the OEMs (both Airbus and Boeing) can do a lot to dissuade the BFE (Buyer-furnished equipment) approach necessary for such off-the-books changes, and both gain from SFE (Supplier-furnished equipment) sales.
To discourage BFE and encourage SFE, the manufacturers can make a great number of technical objections to the components suggested which may or may not ultimately prove valid but which always prolong the design timeline and therefore the delivery timeline.
I can tell you from experience that this is a dance of swords which can often only be effectively resolved by the component manufacturer having sufficient technical capabilities to overcome objections and secure the sale as BFE. It’s a fun process, if that’s what you do for a living, but a stressful and time-consuming one.
Whatever these politics of the cabin configuration, the fact remains that the catalogue simply does not meet the branding needs of all carriers, especially not key players. This can either be a hindrance to more orders of the A350XWB, or it will lead to Airbus ultimately backing-off a bit from the catalogue push. This will be something to watch as more programs are introduced and more A350XWB buyers are added to the books.
No doubt this is a beautifully engineered aircraft with great features for the airlines which will fly it. With its high capacity, efficiency, and maintenance features it hits a sweet spot for airlines. Whether an airline goes catalogue or custom there are plenty of key comfort features, such as the large windows and environmental controls and mood lighting, which will be a sweet ride for passengers too .
Airbus gives us a view of all the great features of the A350XWB in these two infographics.
Here’s Airbus’ compilation flight test video ’cause Big Boys like the A350 need Top Guns too!