Is The A350neo Airbus’ Next Aircraft

Daniel Fowkes
02 Dec 2023
· Aircraft 
Is the Airbus A350neo the next widebody aircraft set to be released by the European plane maker to address the Boeing 777X? Here's an Airbus A350 departing.

The Airbus A350 was unveiled in the 2000s and entered service following a significant redesign in the early to mid-2010s.

However, despite its recent entry into service, innovation will always be at the forefront in an era of sustainability. This understanding makes the direction in which manufacturers will head more interesting.

The development of a potential Airbus A350neo, a re-engine of the existing A350 model, was discussed during the late 2010s, but what’s the current status of this project, why was it studied, and does it have a future?

Aircraft Manufacturers Move To Re-Engine Aircraft

Recently, aircraft manufacturers have explored the re-engine of existing models instead of launching a clean sheet design.

Unlike a re-engine, a clean sheet takes a substantial amount of funds, dedication and resources to make happen. Arguably, they’re a longer process from start to finish, too. Therefore, they come with risks, too.

While the re-engine of an existing aircraft family doesn’t come with its risks, manufacturers will typically see this as a solution to extend the life of a body that has enjoyed a great deal of success and still has a need. Additionally, it could be viewed as a short-term solution to address emerging demand, fend off competition or something else.

While a re-engine will often be the leading point of difference, typically, these next-generation aircraft can also harbour other improvements, whether inside the cabin, the cockpit systems or wing refinements. Typically, manufacturers will lean on different clean sheet designs and apply technology similar to this new model.

Widebodies have been front and centre with this method lately as Airbus released its A330neo, an upgrade on the existing and popular A330-200 and A330-300. Meanwhile, Boeing has proceeded with its 777X, an upgrade on the existing 777 model that wowed customers from the late 1990s.

These aircraft harbour other improvements alongside the addition of more fuel-efficient engines. However, at their core, they’re far from a clean sheet and rather an enhancement on an existing successful model.

The idea of re-engining has continued and has been arguably even more successful across the A320 and 737 family at the leading plane makers. Both companies have been able, across multiple generations, to extend the program’s life through improvements on each type. As a result, it lowers costs for production, development and time. As they say, time is money in the industry.

Examining A Re-Engine Of The Airbus A350

Considering the A350-900’s introduction came not long ago, from launch to discussions around an A350neo were relatively quick. This indicated how quickly technology progressed and showcased how far in advance plane makers were planning.

The Air Current reported on February 13th 2019 that two people familiar with Airbus saw signs of the plane maker looking towards Rolls Royce and their Ultrafan. This engine was tentatively touted at the time for potential first commercial application on a plane such as the A350neo from the 2025 mark.

By the end of 2019, Aviation Week said that GE was also in talks with the European plane maker over potentially aiding them in their A350neo study. These talks, labelled in the preliminary stages, would have seen the evolution of the GENX engine design for application on future variants in the 350 family.

As a result of these two firm reports from two reputable agencies, it pitted two engine manufacturers front and centre as leading choices in the early discussions revolving around upgrading an existing base.

While talk of the A350neo slowed, it’s essential to understand that it doesn’t inherently mean these reports are misleading or false. At the time, sources understood this to be the case. Very few would predict what would follow in the next four years.

Industry Lows See A Shift In Focus

From 2019, when the first talk surrounding an A350neo seemed to emerge, the industry would be turned upside down with some of the most challenging times experienced in modern-day history arriving.

Towards the backend of 2019, the global pandemic would arrive in Asia before spreading to the rest of the globe by the early stages of 2020. As a result, travel demand plummeted, airlines didn’t require aircraft, planes weren’t being delivered, and they were not being ordered.

For all companies in the industry, survival mode was activated, and for Airbus, their shift in focus was more than evident. While the emphasis seemingly shifted and firm reports around an A350neo dwindled, speculation and general discussion continued.

Talk Of An Airbus A350neo Continues, Albeit Slowly

Analysts would also pitch in with their opinions on a new A350neo. One overarching belief was that an A350neo could be a means to address potential competition Airbus would face from the introduction of Boeing’s 777X program.

However, often, the discussion would see a comment from Airbus’ Chief in 2019 return. Following reports from Aviation Week, the Chief emerged by saying that while they’re always discussing potential options to boost their aircraft portfolio, such as an A350neo or other entrees, it doesn’t mean they’ll proceed with each interaction.

There are two ways that people took these comments. Some believed that a company would never reveal which direction it was heading until a public announcement. Others thought that these comments were a fair assessment of the situation.

The idea for a new aircraft has to be, first and foremost, feasible. Otherwise, Airbus would not invest such an amount into such a program.

Additionally, focus must be placed on several other critical areas before production can even move forward. This could include but not be limited to the response from key customers. If there’s no interest in any aircraft program from the companies being targeted to buy it, a plane maker will hardly proceed.

Meanwhile, a substantial focus must also be on the return on investment. While a re-engine won’t be as costly as a clean sheet, how will the resources being put to the new type fair? Will the return on investment be present, or is the currently active plane tracking just fine?

Airbus Is Enjoying Success With The A350 Currently

While a plane maker can never truly get complacent, the A350 series has enjoyed substantial success to date, and the backlog for the type continues to grow.

Aside from firm orders, customers still confirm their interest in the type frequently. With deliveries slated to continue into the 2030s, it’ll ensure production likely rolls for two decades and will see the plane flying late into the 2000s.

The series will also extend its capabilities with the delivery of the first type to Qantas in the coming years for Project Sunrise, breaking the existing range boundaries. These Airbus A350s will fly from Sydney to London and Melbourne to New York without a single stop in Project Sunrise.

This example with Qantas, among others such as Singapore Airlines’ A350ULR operations, highlights the capabilities the type offers customers away from just the standard variants and why it has become a favourite among many.

However, it’s important to note that a plane can enjoy success, but it doesn’t mean it will last forever. That is why a plane maker must continue to study future options to enhance the program, boost sales and fend off competition from their primary competitor.

What’s The Airbus A350neo’s Current Status

What’s the status of an A350neo now? Following the emergence of the pandemic, labour shortages and much more, it has been some time since firm reports identified any progress on an A350neo, at least publicly.

With that being said, do analysts and others believe an A350neo has a place within the industry? Most would argue that someday, with new technology advancements, especially in engines, a potential quick application to re-engine the aircraft could harbour superb long-term benefits for customers.

Also, understanding that a re-engine is a standard method and potential other enhancements could give the 350 an extension on life and a newfound purpose as Airbus moves towards the next authentic piece of engineering, which will reshape the industry forever.

However, some remain on the other side of the fence despite this. These people firmly believe that other exciting projects being studied by Airbus at this point are far more intriguing and likely beneficial to the long-term success of the plane maker.

Despite this, much of the technology being studied remains unproven, so if the plane maker sees an opportunity to re-engine the A350. In contrast, if this futuristic technology works to be approved, it could green-light the deal.

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