Muddled-size twinjet

I’ve almost lost count of how many A350 “launches” I’ve reported on now (its four). But the message from Airbus in Paris yesterday was that this is the last and the best.

The first was the commercial launch in December 2004 of A350 Mk1 – basically a cheap and cheerful, warmed-up A330. By the time this model got its industrial launch in October 2005 – it was almost an all-new aircraft – but the key word there is “almost” – and almost wasn’t good enough for the likes of Steve Hazy, Tim Clark and Chew Choon Seng. So fast forward to Farnborough in July and the unveiling of A350 Mk2 – the “XWB” was all new with a wider cabin and new wing – and more than double the development costs – but the customers now liked what they saw.

So yesterday in Paris we had the briefing supporting Friday’s second A350 industrial launch and this time, hopefully it’s the last.

But was all this necessary? I spoke to a senior airline CEO shortly after Airbus had first briefed potential customers on the original A350 in Autumn 2004 and his message was clear even then – what they were proposing wasn’t good enough and only an all-new design would suffice if Airbus was going to take on the Boeing 787.

But Airbus thought it knew best and pressed ahead with the warmed up A330 version for more than 18 months – the result: Airbus now finally has a competitive product but has squandered three years of availability (the original was set for service entry in 2010 while this one won’t show up at airport terminals until mid-2013 at best). And the sales advantage that this muddled thinking has handed Boeing is another story. And none of it was really necessary, was it?

Airbus CEO Louis Gallois said that “sometimes the best things are worth waiting for” – for Airbus’s sake he has to be right.

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