Airbus is at a 'crossroads' on A350 design, says ILFC's Udvar-Hazy

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Airbus must decide before June on whether to refine the specification of its A350 medium twin jet further or commit to a new, thoroughly upgraded design, it was warned yesterday by a major lessor.

International Lease Finance (ILFC) chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy, speaking at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) conference in Orlando, Florida, said that while the current A350 is essentially a derivative of the A330 medium range twin jet, a new design could form the backbone of the manufacturer’s future widebody fleet.

“I think the latest version of the A350 looks excellent. But it still has some elements left over from early models of the [manufacturer’s] widebody family. Airbus needs to address will they have a new family of aircraft,” says Udvar-Hazy.

He adds that Airbus is “at a crossroads” on building the A350 “as presented today” based on the A330 platform or committing to a new widebody design.

Should Airbus commit to serious A350 changes, it will be “an $8 billion to $10 billion decision” and “will have to be made between now and the Farnborough Air Show”, Udvar-Hazy says.

ILFC in November struck a deal to take 12 A350s, after Airbus completed a round of improvements to the twinjet’s specification that the US lessor later said addressed its design concerns. ILFC further showed its commitment to the aircraft in February when it ordered another four of the type.

Nonetheless, Udvar-Hazy sees the A350 as a response by Airbus after being “stunned” and “caught a little bit behind the power curve” when rival Boeing shifted gears from the Sonic Cruiser plan to developing a new family of aircraft with the 787.

MARY KIRBY / ORLANDO