Airbus's A350 rethink splits customer opinion, with delays concerning Yemenia as Finnair takes a relaxed view

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David Kaminski-Morrow in Paris

Delays concern Yemenia as Finnair takes relaxed view

Airlines with Airbus A350s on order have given a mixed response to the proposal to relaunch the aircraft with a raft of major improvements that will delay its entry into service by several years.

Middle East carrier Yemenia, which has six A350s on order for delivery from 2012 and four more on option, says the delay will force it to rethink its order. However, Finnair, which is due to receive the first of its nine orders in 2011 and holds four options, is more relaxed about the situation.

Yemenia chairman Capt Abdulkalek Saleh Al-Kadi told Flight International at the International Air Transport Association annual general meeting in Paris last week that the delay is a “very serious” issue and is yet to be convinced that, even with Airbus support, Yemenia can find a way to bridge the two-year gap. “It means that for 2012 to 2014 we have no plan,” said Al-Kadi.

He added that, following a briefing from Airbus, the airline’s board is set to discuss the implications for the carrier and that it will have to make a decision “very soon” on whether to remain committed to the A350 order. It is “conceivable” it could switch to an alternative type if the board decides that the delay is unacceptable, said Al-Kadi.

Speaking to Flight International at the same event, Finnair’s new chief executive Jukka Hienonen said there were no plans to review the selection of the A350, despite the uncertainty. He said the airline is “pretty calm with the issue” of potentially extensive changes to the aircraft. While the timetable for introduction “might be a discussion subject”, he said that Finnair is a long-term customer of Airbus and has confidence in the manufacturer. “If Airbus has to redesign it, then it will only be a better aircraft,” said Hienonen, pointing out that Finnair has not been among those pressing for modifications. “We bought the aircraft as it was. The specification has not been changed because of our desires.”

Finnair’s short-haul fleet includes several Airbus A320 family aircraft and the carrier is preparing to introduce its first Airbus A340 – an ex-Virgin Atlantic aircraft – which will supplement and eventually replace its Boeing MD-11s on long-haul routes.