The Airbus A350 is a family of long-range, widebody aircraft introduced by Airbus. The development of the A350 began in the early 2000s due to the shifting industry trends, and it was officially launched in the mid-2000s. The first variant, the A350-900, entered service with Qatar Airways in January 2015.
Airbus’ A350 family includes several models, including the A350-900 and the larger A350-1000, with ULR options existing. The -1000 is specialised to carry more passengers while the A350-900 enjoyed an extended range.
However, following the removal of the Airbus A380 from production, the A350 is one of the few widebody long-haul aircraft programs currently remaining in production; thus, could an A350-2000 replace the A380?
Is There A Need For Higher Capacity Jets?
Some analysts and executives at airlines believe the need for ultra-high-capacity jets, however, remains within the industry. However, with the Airbus A380 now having seen production close, how will airlines look to address this potential interest?
However, with only a handful of companies expressing interest in higher capacity aircraft, do manufacturers need to invest significantly to cater to these needs? This is where analysts, industry experts and enthusiasts remain divided.
A Further Stretch To The Airbus A350
The most significant variant of the A350 series is the -1000, which comes in at just under 74 metres (243ft) in overall length. The aircraft can sit upwards of 400 passengers depending on the configuration and was labelled as a 777-300ER and A340-600 replacement.
Additionally, the A350-1000 is pitted against Boeing’s upcoming 777-9, slated for launch in the coming years with customers in the long-haul market. However, the capacity still sees the aircraft sit shy of the A380 and 747s capabilities.
This is where a further stretch of the Airbus A350, potentially dubbed the A350-1100 or A350-2000, has emerged to address capacity concerns. Talks of an A350 Stretch date back towards the mid-2010s when the A350 began flexing its muscles.
The potential A350-2000 could, with a fuselage extension from the currently existing A350-1000, be about 4 meters longer and, therefore, fit 40 -50 extra seats. This would bump its capacity into an even more competitive range and be the difference some customers may require.
Furthermore, the added weight would not likely exceed the maximum possible of the A350-1000. As a result, in theory, it could be fitted with the same Rolls Royce XWB engines if Airbus proceeded with such a program.
Fear Of Ending The A380 Series With A350-2000
All of the changes required to manufacture an A350-2000 would be relatively inexpensive and simpler than proceeding with a complete clean sheet design.
However, during the A350-2000s focus, the A380 was still in production. Airbus feared that the two planes would be close enough in capacity that they might cannibalise each other’s market share.
Ultimately, since these comments, the A380 production has ceased, and its global footprint has reduced significantly, with airlines retiring the type.
Pouncing On Potential Boeing Problems
The delivery of the 777X was initially slated for 2020; however, it has now been pushed backwards towards 2025 at the earliest. For customers needing an immediate solution, it has thus become a far less attractive option and less accessible.
Analysts argued years back that this allowed Airbus to pounce with their readily available A350 already in production and offering fantastic efficiency. A pouncing similar to the extensive success enjoyed with the A321neo thanks to Boeing’s lack of adequate competitors.
It’s crucial to be competitive and lead the way within the industry wherever possible. If a manufacturer identifies a gap in the market or problem elsewhere, there’s little time for sympathy.
Will Airbus Revisit A Stretch?
So, will Airbus revisit the A350-2000? Despite many people’s logic behind such a decision, Airbus has shown no signs it’ll proceed with such a variant.
Fending Off 777X Competition
In early 2018, with the launch of the A350-1000, the head of marketing for the aircraft dismissed claims that the 777-9 would be a threat. The executive claimed that the 777-9 was a mixture of new and outdated technology. It also had a core design that would make it a worse choice than the A350 -1000.
On the topic of capacity, she proposed a ten-abreast A350-1000 would still be competitive with the capacity of the 777-9 over at Boeing, thus nullifying the need for a stretched version.
Furthermore, Airbus’ CEO said in a 2019 interview that he did not see a place for a plane of such high capacity in the industry.
We are happy with the A350 -900 and 1000, so we keep focusing on those versions of the plane.Australian Business Traveller – Airbus CEO in 2019
Since then, there has been little to no noise from the company about the prospective airliner.
Could The A350-2000 Replace The A380?
On a capacity front, the proposed Airbus A350-2000 harbours the best chance at replicating what the A380 series could do for customers, but it would ultimately still fall short.
Equipped with two engines instead of four, the aircraft could improve customer efficiency if released, too.
However, the seeming lack of interest from many customers and Airbus being content with its current offering have seen it move away from an A350 stretch.