Farnborough: Finnair first carrier to commit to new Airbus A350 XWB twinjet family

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By David Kaminski-Morrow in Farnborough

Finnair has become the first airline to commit publicly to the redesigned Airbus A350 XWB twin-jet, despite the flag-carrier having to incur a year’s delay in taking delivery of the type.

It had placed an order for nine Rolls-Royce-powered A350-900s towards the end of last year, plus four options, and was intending to acquire the aircraft in spring 2012. Under the new plan it will put the A350 XWB into service in 2013.

Finnair says that it has negotiated “arrangements to compensate” for changes to the airline’s fleet-renewal plans, and the resulting delays, although it has not disclosed details.

But the airline adds: “We have ensured our long-haul fleet expansion despite Airbus announcing that it has postponed the release of its new-generation A350 aircraft type due to technical modifications.”

The Oneworld member had previously indicated that it was not particularly concerned about the prospective revamping of the A350.

“We are pleased that we will be acquiring an even better aircraft than we originally ordered,” says Finnair deputy chief executive Henrik Arle. “Naturally the changes in the release timetable require us to make adjustments but we have negotiated on these interim arrangements with Airbus in a constructive atmosphere.

“The basis of our arrangement with Airbus is that the foundations and profitability of our business are not threatened by the change.”

Airbus’s A350 XWB will comprise a family of three aircraft – the A350-800, A350-900 and A350-1000 – featuring an improved wing, increased capacity, new engines and capable of higher speeds than the previous A350.

Finnair has been introducing Airbus A340 aircraft to supplement its long-haul Boeing MD-11s in order to support its route expansion strategy which is focusing on Asian destinations.

While Airbus has outlined its revamp to the A350, new chief executive Christian Streiff plans to wait three months before seeking approval to formally launch the new aircraft – meaning orders can not be formalised until that point.

Airbus secured orders and commitments for 182 aircraft for the original A350 from 14 customers. Speaking at a press conference yesterday announcing the changes to the aircraft, Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy outlined his confidence when asked about the likelihood of converting these commitments to the new aircraft – suggesting he thought the carrier would only lose a maximum of one or two.