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Airbus A350- The early years!

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Since October 2015, Finnair has a fleet of 14 A350-900 making up two thirds of its long haul fleet.

The Airbus A350 family is one of the newest wide-body airliners in the world. In a market where twin engine planes are becoming the norm on long haul routes and better efficiency is encouraging airlines to go further to places that were once uneconomical or impossible to go to.

Despite being a popular long haul airliner, the Airbus A330 was not able to match the capacity of the products from rival Boeing.

With the Airbus A340 family out of production since 2011, the Airbus A330 not able to match the range and capacity of the likes of the Boeing 777-300(ER) or the, then, incoming Boeing 787 Dreamliner family. Airbus had quickly realised the Airbus A380 wasn’t going to be the way forward as airlines stopped ordering them, favouring the likes of the A330 or Boeing 787/777.

The success of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was a leading factor for Airbus to respond with the Airbus A350-family.

Quickly responding to this change in the aviation environment- Airbus launched the Airbus A350-family. Which consists of the Airbus A350-900 & Airbus A350-1000. The Airbus A350-800 was announced, but has since been dropped by Airbus in favour of upgrading the Airbus A330 family.

Despite the youngest air frame being built in 2011, the A340 has fallen foul of rising fuel prices in the 2010’s.

The Airbus A350 had been taking orders since 2006, in fact in 2012- the aircraft had just shy of 600 orders to its name before the prototype took its first flight in June 2013. As of September 2019, the Airbus A350 family has 913 confirmed orders with 300 deliveries. The aircraft has already out performed the Airbus A380 and Airbus A340 in orders/sales, making it the second best long haul aircraft seller in the Airbus catalogue behind the Airbus A330, which has seen 1739 orders & 1469 deliveries in 25 years.

Ethiopian Airlines is the launch customer for the type in Africa, taking their first aircraft in July 2016,

Compared to the rival Boeing 787, the Airbus A350 is behind the Boeing Dreamliner for by 500 orders, with almost as many Dreamliner’s in active service as there are Airbus A350 ordered. Though the Dreamliner was entered into service first, the Boeing plane has been plagued with engine and lithium ion battery issues since 2011, where as the Airbus A350 has yet to have a major incident to its name. The Boeing 787 has 1464 aircraft on order and 882 delivered as of September 11th 2019, against the Airbus A350 with 300 delivered of 913 confirmed orders on the same day.

Fifteen airlines from the Asian continent are operating the Airbus A350, Hong Kong Airlines has seven in their fleet.

The launch customer of the Airbus A350-900 was Qatar Airways on January 15th 2015. The same company would be the launch customer of the larger Airbus A350-1000 on February 24th 2018. The plane would operate to Frankfurt Main for its maiden flight, having done some press flights out of London Heathrow earlier in January 2015.

Qatar Airways first Airbus A350-900, A7-ALA on a press flight departing LHR on January 12th 2015.

Vietnam Airlines was the second airline to take delivery of the Airbus A350 putting it to service on domestic flights between Hanoi and Ho Chi-Minh City and its first international service to Paris Charles DeGaulle.

Since October 2015, Finnair has a fleet of 14 A350-900 making up two thirds of its long haul fleet.

The launch customer for the type in Europe was Helsinki based Finnair. The airline took delivery of the type on October 9th 2015, and before placing the aircraft into long haul services to Asia, the aircraft did one off flights around various European destinations on the Finnair network including: Gothenburg, London, Amsterdam and Oslo, before launching on the Shanghai service on November 21st 2015. The airline retired their Airbus A340-300 fleet in January 2017, thus resulting in a majority A350 long haul fleet for the airline operating across Asia, London and Los Angeles as of late 2019.

The Airbus A350 has found itself being used on many of the “Ultra Long Haul” routes to the USA by Singapore Airlines.

The Airbus A350-900 carries an average passenger load of 300-350 passengers with a maximum range of 15,000km. With single Airbus A350-900 advertised at $317.4 million as of 2018, though most airlines won’t pay this advertised figure- especially when they bulk buy orders.

The only North American airline using the Airbus A350-900 is Delta Airlines as of 2019, however United Airlines has a fleet on order.

The Airbus A350 family has opened up various new routes due to its efficiency on two engines. Out of the top twenty longest flights by distance, six are operated by a variant of the Airbus A350, which include (as of Sep 11th 2019).

  • Newark Liberty-Singapore Changi, Singapore Airlines (NO.1)
  • Los Angeles- Singapore Changi, Singapore Airlines (NO.5)
  • New York JFK- Manilla, Philippine Airlines (NO.8)
  • San Francisco- Singapore Changi, Singapore Airlines (NO.9)
  • Toronto Pearson- Manilla, Philippine Airlines (NO.15)
  • Washington Dulles- Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific (NO.20)

The cockpit of the Airbus A350 is as similar to the rest of the Airbus catalogue to reduce training costs to airlines.

2019 has seen the arrival of the Airbus A350 into the fleets of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in the UK, SAS Scandinavian Airlines is due to receive their first aircraft later in the year. In Asia, China Southern Airlines and Japan Airlines (their first Airbus order) both introduced the aircraft and in Spain Evelop Airlines introduced the aircraft. Air France is a natural airline to have the type, given they’ve operated every Airbus airliner type built, and will get their first aircraft in late 2019.

The first British Airways Airbus A350-1000 parked at London Heathrow.

As with most airliners, a handful of airlines have cancelled their Airbus A350 orders. The following airlines have opted to change their stance on the A350 in their fleet.

KLM– Cancelled order in 2019, moving their A350 orders to Air France, in exchange for Boeing 787’s from Air France.
American Airlines– Inherited an order for 18 aircraft from US Airways in 2013, but cancelled the order in 2018 to focus on an all-Boeing long haul fleet.
Hawaiian Airlines– Initially ordered 6 A350-800, but converted order to A330-800neo.
Kingfisher Airlines– Ordered five air-frames, but order cancelled in 2013 after the airline went bankrupt in 2012.
TAP Portugal– Ordered the Airbus A350-900, but cancelled order for a fleet of Airbus A330-neo in 2015.

The business class cabin on an Airbus A350 of Iberia.

Despite these small order losses, the Airbus A350 is still proving popular and with over 550 more orders to be fulfilled and more orders likely to come over the coming years, the A350 is hear to stay and likely join the ranks of the Airbus A320 and Airbus A330 as one of the biggest successes in European Aerospace design!

Malaysia Airlines has replaced the Airbus A380 with newer Airbus A350 on its premier London Heathrow route, to keep it profitable!

The Airbus A350’s arrival is bitter sweet for many aviation enthusiasts. Its a good plane to fly on and a favourite among Airbus fans, however it’s arrival is signalling the end of various aircraft. The Airbus A350 (across various airlines) is replacing the older Boeing 777-200, legendary Boeing 747-400, Airbus A340-300/-600 and for a few airlines its due to replace the larger Airbus A380-800, a move already being done by Malaysia Airlines.

A majestic wing view of a Finnair Airbus A350 in flight from London to Helsinki.

Despite currently a small way behind the Boeing 787 in orders, there are openings where the Airbus A350 could still win new orders. QANTAS is hoping to launch its project “sunrise” which could see Sydney services direct to Europe (mainly London and Paris projected as leading destinations), so it is possible if Boeing suffers more setbacks, the Airbus A350 could see itself on more pioneering routes and services, however time will eventually reveal all!

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