29 July 2013
A350-900R: Singapore Airlines will be the launch customer of the Regional version of the A350-900.
Airbus has been quick to dismiss the merits of Boeing's new 787-10 since its launch at the Paris air show in June, a sure sign that the European airframer considers the new aircraft a serious competitor. Another sure sign is this: Airbus plans to launch a new A350 version to go head to head with the -10.
Although Airbus has been talking with individual airlines about what it is calling the A350-900 regional, and it says some have firmed up commitments already, it plans to formally offer the aircraft toward the end of this year. “[The airlines] have kept it quiet for a while because they want to see how exactly we position it,” Airbus COO-Customers John Leahy says.
The -900 regional is going to be structurally identical to the baseline aircraft, but its engines will be derated to 75,000 lb. thrust, the same as those powering the smaller -800. The regional variant will also be limited to a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 250 tons, compared to 268 tons for the long-haul version.
“There is a slight engine derate, optimizing capacity and payloads for regional routes. We aren’t permanently changing hardware. There will be a software change. Airbus has products that will be at least as cost effective as anything Boeing puts out.”
Airbus is not saying when the aircraft will be ready for entry into service, but some certification work will be necessary.
The move to proceed with the A350-900 regional is not only significant as a reaction to the 787-10. It shows that Airbus is starting to pay more attention to customers that have quietly or publicly been complaining about what they describe as excessive range capabilities built into new long-haul aircraft, which are essentially only needed by the big three Persian Gulf carriers for services to the U.S. West Coast, Australia or Latin America. Such ranges are not needed by European, U.S. and even many Asian airlines.
The A350-900 regional can still easily fly most transatlantic missions and all medium- to long-haul services that would be typical of longer intra-Asian routes. It is also suited for Middle East-Europe and Middle East-Southeast Asia flights.
Airbus says the A350-900 regional “proves to be a very strong competitor to the newly launched 787-10,” arguing that it offers the same payload/range characteristics and “comparable economics.” In other words, it is acknowledging that the A350-900 does not. However, Airbus asserts that the regional variant is actually a more pleasant aircraft than the 787-10 from a passenger perspective. In a nine-abreast configuration, the A350-900 can accommodate seats that are 18 in. wide, while the 787's are just 17 in. wide.
Furthermore, the 787-10 will operate at its maximum thrust level, according to Airbus, whereas the -900 regional will not, leading to reduced maintenance costs.
The variant can be reinstated to full range capability through changes in software and some paperwork (plus a fee to Airbus, as the lighter aircraft has a lower price). That could be an important asset for leasing companies, because it broadens the base of potential customers. It would also offer airlines the flexibility to switch from regional to long-haul flying as their networks evolve.
Singapore Airlines is buying a batch of the de-specified aircraft as part of its follow-on order for 30 A350-900s, which was announced in May/2013 for delivery starting in 2016.
The Asian carrier –which has placed total firm orders for 70 A350-900s- says it “plans to operate the aircraft on both medium and long range routes” but declines to comment on any plans to introduce the lower-weight version. It has also committed to 30 Boeing 787-10s.
Based on the article “Full Circle” published in Aviation Week and based on the article “SIA first in line for lower MTOW A350” published in Flight Global.