Why Airbus Launched The A350 To Rival Boeing

Daniel Fowkes
04 Jan 2024
· Aircraft 
Why did Airbus launch the A350. Was there decision influenced by the success of the 787 or long-standing position of the 777 and upcoming 777X or were there other motives. Has the A350 been a success and has the aircraft realised its full potential yet?

The Airbus A350 completed its first flight in 2013, with delivery occurring in 2015, but the idea of the aircraft came far earlier as a direct response to development within the industry.

A fine focus was placed primarily on the long-haul sector, which had advanced considerably since the quad-engine age. Developments at Boeing, which saw the continued success of the 777 and the upcoming 777X, led Airbus to find a means to compete better.

Unlike the A330neo, A321neo, 777X and such, the A350 was a clean sheet and a substantial investment to compete better with Boeing and acquire further market share.

An Airbus A350 Overview

The Airbus A350 emphasised efficiency, and the A350 incorporated leading materials such as carbon fibre to reduce weight while increasing performance.

Airbus intended the aircraft to be industry-leading and incorporate developments and studies over a multi-decade period. This cutting-edge technology allows it to remain an industry leader well into the 2020s.

The aircraft family comprises three main variants: the A350-900, A350-1000, and the newly announced A350F. However, away from the main variants, Singapore Airlines flies an A350ULR for their ultra long haul flights, and Qantas will fly a purposely built A350-1000 for their own 20+ hour flights.

The A350-900, the first variant to enter service, caters as the perfect middle ground and is the most popular for customers seeking a widebody alternative. Meanwhile, for those requiring additional capacity and, in some cases, a direct 777 replacement, the A350-1000 has quickly become a compelling option.

At Virgin Atlantic or Japan Airlines, adding the A350-1000 has either replaced inefficient quad-engined jets, replaced the 777 or allowed for the capacity to grow.

The major U.S. carrier is speculated to be closing in on a deal with Delta for the A350-1000, with the high-capacity variant slated to complement their existing A350-900 commitment.

A350 Launch

The birth of the Airbus A350 can be traced back to the emergence of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. At the time, this clean sheet from the American plane maker was viewed as revolutionary and a type that posed a significant challenge to Airbus.

However, interestingly, Airbus did initially downplay the threat posed by the 787, believing that their existing A330 model could be enhanced to meet market demands and that the 787 would likely fail to meet what Boeing hoped.

Airbus’ view led to the proposal of the A330-200 Lite, a modified version of the A330, as a seemingly forced response, but they were hesitant to move ahead with anything else at the time.

Airbus proposed an A330-200Lite to fend off sales of the Boeing 787.

However, as the industry evolved and Boeing continued to enjoy success in the long-haul market, it became evident that a more substantial response was required. Airbus was also forced to reconsider its position as the 787 proved them wrong and saw considerable orders and interest.

The European plane maker acknowledged the need for a solution to compete effectively in the 250 to 300-seat market, which housed the 787. However, eventually, critical leadership realised that a more ambitious project was necessary to address the changing demands.

This realisation marked the birth of the Airbus A350, which can now be considered a critical moment in the European plane makers’ history as it was viewed to become more competitive in the space.

The A350, therefore, was strategically positioned not only to counter the success of upcoming widebodies such as the 787 to a certain extent but also another different but compelling option.

However, Airbus also wanted to fend off interest in the 777 and allow airlines assessing aircraft to sway in their direction.

The A350 And 787 Battle.

While, again, many argue the A350 and 787 are not direct competitors, the two aircraft have engaged in a bit of a battle through the years. When purchasing a new widebody, many customers often look towards leading aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing.

As a result, nowadays, the 777X, 787, A350 and, to a certain extent, the A330neo will be pithed. The two leading aircraft types currently are the A350 and 787, and thanks to their various developments in recent years, they have provided a worthy solution for many.

The addition of the Boeing 787 to the industry has presented Airbus with further competition in the widebody market.

One key aspect of this rivalry was the battle for market share in the 250 to 300-seat sector. Both aircraft manufacturers recognised the significance of this market segment, in some cases, others late and sought ways to dominate it with their respective offerings.

Beyond the competition with the Boeing 787, the Airbus A350 also played a pivotal role in fending off the continued success and interest in Boeing’s 777 program. Airbus needed to find a solution while working on the A380, another aircraft.

The Emergence Of The 777X

Boeing’s upcoming 777X, certified in 2025, will present AIrbus with a new challenge it has been preparing for for some time. Adding two new variants and a dedicated freighter in the long-haul market will mean Airbus must continue pushing its A350 to customers.

Will the official certification and EIS of the 777X give Airbus more competition as airlines finally ponder ordering the new widebody once proven?

For now, Airbus has had one up on Boeing, with the A350 program launching a decade to the year earlier than the 777X. However, the 777X’s capacity could easily prove a compelling long-term option.

Airbus will want to position itself perfectly to push the A350 to airlines that, in the next 5-10 years, are looking to retire their 777s, which are still too young to retire. Airbus has also thus far done well at converting 777 customers to the A350 program, but it wants to continue this.

Reflecting On The A350 Performance

Since the A350 entered into service, it has succeeded in many areas. The aircraft has garnered widespread acclaim for several critical factors in its development.

Airlines across the globe have embraced the A350, and this is more than evident in its robust order book and global footprint. Additionally, the backlog for the aircraft continues to stretch long into the future, with the ability to acquire an A350 shortly difficult thanks to existing commitments.

Looking Ahead

Many argue the best years for the Airbus A350 are on the horizon. This is highlighted with several new customers slated to take the aircraft onboard for many different missions. Additionally, the A350F launch in the latter stages of the 2020s will present a new freight era for Airbus.

According to some, the A350’s full potential is still yet to be realised, too, with murmurs towards the latter stages of the 2010s of a re-engine in the form of an A350neo.

That said, the aircraft has successfully addressed critical concerns in the market and garnered substantial interest. More than a decade following its first flight, it is still attracting orders.

Deliveries will continue well into the 2030s and ensure a multi-decade production stint that could stretch even longer with further program development.

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