Huge potential for A350 in Chinese market: Airbus China chief

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The Airbus A350 has "huge potential" in the Chinese market, although sales of the aircraft have been slow so far, says Airbus China president Eric Chen.

In a recent interview with Flightglobal Pro, Chen, who took over as the airframer's China chief in January, says the A350 is well suited for long-range routes from China to destinations in Europe and North America.

Air China, which has an order for 10 A350-900s, is the only Chinese carrier with an order for the type. Even though he would not say when more orders for the type can be expected from China, Chen stresses that a wave of orders will come.

One reason why the take-up for the A350 has been relatively slow is because Chinese carriers plan their fleet according to five-year periods, says Chen.

"If you order the A350 now, it's going to be delivered after 2020. Airlines here plan their fleets in five years, we're now in the 12th five-year plan from 2011 to 2015, so airlines are very cautious about capacity increases beyond that," he explains.

Chinese carriers have also taken a more cautious approach towards ordering new aircraft types because of delays in the Boeing 787 programme, says Chen. China Eastern Airlines cancelled orders for 24 of the widebody aircraft in 2011, citing the extended delivery delays of the jet.

Chen thus expects more orders for the A350 to come after the aircraft successfully enters service.

"In the past year, some airlines in China have taken a wait and see approach. They look extremely interested but would prefer to wait," he says.

He adds that Airbus has a "comprehensive solution" to the long-haul demands of Chinese airlines over the next 20 years with the A330, A350 and A380.

Although the airframer has publicly only disclosed an order for 20 A320neos to Chinese lessor ICBC Leasing, Chen says demand for the re-engined narrowbody is "much stronger than the order size", and that more orders can be expected this year.

Airbus is forecasting that China will require 4,600 aircraft over the next 20 years, the majority of which are single-aisle jets.

"We believe that over the next 20 years, China is going to be the number one market," says Chen.