Airbus’ Redesigned A350 To Rival The 777

An Emirates Airbus A350-900

The Airbus A350 is a leading widebody aircraft in the aviation industry.

Alongside the 787 from Boeing, these jets have played a pivotal role in changing how airlines complete scheduled long-haul passenger services.

However, getting the A350 to launch was more complicated than initially imagined and involved a significant redesign.

The adjustment changed the A350 as we initially knew to what is flying today to better compete with Boeing and convert interest to firm orders.

Why An A350 To Begin With?

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a fascinating period for the industry, especially when examining movements from aircraft manufacturers.

From the misjudgments at manufacturers to other vital decisions that laid out the groundwork for today’s many successes and failures. The industry hadn’t witnessed quite a shakeup like what was seen for some time.

However, at Airbus, following the launch of their A330, there was a lot of consideration about the next plane. How would they continue to compete with the already well-established Boeing aircraft portfolio?

Airbus needed to ensure Boeing didn’t run away with the next generation of aircraft by snagging a substantial market share.

So, when the plane maker doubted the premise of the 787, it was an opinion heavily criticised. Customers wanted another next-generation widebody from the European plane maker.

Over time, the design progressed from another A330 type towards a more thorough plan. Ultimately, this plan would see an overall proposal that would be greeted by a multi-billion dollar commitment.

The premise was an aircraft to fit the 250-300 seat market. At the time, this was a highly lucrative market for manufacturers. Airbus wanted to win over half the available market with this proposed aircraft.

However, while the A350 was unveiled around 2004 and later received backing from Qatar Airways in 2005, some immediate concerns and questions needed to be asked.

Customers Desire For Something More

After many discussions, studies and customer input, Airbus unveiled in 2006, a handful of years after the first introduction to the type, an A350XWB. XWB stands for Xtra Wide Body.

Away from the A350, Airbus had their A380, which, away from being a fantastic bit of engineering, caused Airbus to struggle.

The redesigned A350 was what Airbus wanted to be its saving grace. The option to stick with the A350 naming was long debated, but keeping that name was eventually decided.

Airbus’ Chief in 2006, when unveiling the plan to redesign, said that input coming directly from customers was that they wanted to see change. Also, something extra needed to be added on. Something that would push existing and more customers over the line to commit in sheer numbers to the program.

Taking that on board was no doubt essential for Airbus for the long-term success and future of the program. Even if it delayed the program by a couple of years, the end success should far outweigh the delays felt.

With a USD 10 billion development cost at the time, which ended up rising, it was a staggering increase on the initially quoted figure before the redesign. There was hope that they would break even by committing more money to the changes.

Where Would The Redesign Place The A350

So, following a redesign, where would the updated A350 be pitched?

If standing by Airbus’ word, the A350 should slot into the long-haul widebody market and fend off competition from the existing 777 series and now upcoming 777X program.

However, Airbus has also had to watch Boeing’s movements with the 787, who are studying a 787HGW to better compete with the A350-900.

Ultimately, the A350 was a means to prevent Boeing from running away with such a lucrative market.

Understanding The Upgrades

At the time, the redesign saw many enhancements and features, such as the most expansive windows in the industry. Additionally, the fuselage saw several changes to allow for a more customisable seating range in high-density or low-density configurations.

Alongside Airbus’ mission to lower maintenance costs to make acquiring the jet as attractive as possible.

Overall, it was what many deemed a very suitable upgrade to the series that should have, at the time, cemented Airbus as the one to watch in the market.

At the time of the A350 introduction, the 777 was crushing Airbus’ own A340, and the A380 was struggling to enter into service. Thanks to this, Airbus was accumulating significant costs and witnessing delays in production and delivery.

The A350, therefore, just had to be right in every sense. Because of the changes, Airbus said there would be a delay in the entry into service.

Boeing’s Lack Of Concern And Eventual Launch

When Boeing was seen commenting on the A350 redesign, they did mention that a delay in the entry to service is a disadvantage to the program. Boeing wasn’t concerned as the significant delay would, according to them, impact performance.

However, eventually, the entry into service date would balloon out. The first redesigned A350 arrived at Qatar Airways at the end of 2014, a relatively long time from when they initially said it would enter.

There will always be delays when putting a plane into service. However, what was ultimately crucial for Airbus was that the redesign converted interest into firm orders and that they could compete with Boeing once again.

Now, the A350 flies widely worldwide. It is still routinely produced, ordered and delivered and is a pivotal part of many airlines’ long-haul operations.

Soon, it’ll connect Australia to New York, London and more without a single stop on the world’s longest flights. These flights are to be operated by Australian flag carrier Qantas as part of Project Sunrise.

The Airbus A350 breaks barriers and is a favourite aircraft for many to fly on. Ultimately, the A350 redesign is what many would argue helped propel the program to stardom.

Without a significant redesign and delays alongside an increase in development cost, the A350 may not quite have stuck the landing as intended initially.

Daniel Fowkes
14 Nov 2023
· Aircraft 

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