Airbus A350 launch customer Qatar Airways has warned that it may abandon its A350-1000 order if the recently unveiled redesign fails to provide a sufficient step in performance over the Boeing 777-300ER.
Airbus unveiled its revamped A350-1000 at the start of the Paris air show, with changes centring on a more powerful Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine, revised wing and increased weights, which boosts range by 400nm (740km). As part of the revamp, Airbus has slipped the first delivery by two years to mid-2017 and raised the list price by $9 million.
However, the reaction from the market has been mixed, with several customers, including launch customer Qatar Airways, which has 20 -1000s on order, believing that Airbus has not gone far enough to improve the 350-seater's competitiveness over the rival, and slightly larger, Boeing 777-300ER.
"I was expecting that Airbus would make a competitor to the 777-300ER, that we would have considerably lower seat-mile costs and at least 15% more range, but that is not going to happen," said Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker.
"What they are going to give us is fewer seats than the 777-300ER and marginally more range," he said, speaking exclusively to Flightglobal. "Why should I go for a new aeroplane while I already have one that has more revenue generation and just a little less range. I'm investing in this aircraft with very little marginal benefit, range-wise, and negative benefit capacity-wise."
Al Baker added that in addition to this, the revised A350-1000 "is going to be 18 months late - and that is as of now - which means I will have to buy more Boeings to keep up with my fleet plan. And now we also don't have all the commonality benefits that they told us we would have.
"Airbus is not listening to us - I don't think they've achieved anything with this investment," he said.
Al Baker said Qatar Airways has the right to "walk away" from the order if the aircraft does not meet agreed performance requirements: "Once things are clear to us, we may cancel the -1000s or switch them to the -900 variant and transfer some to our leasing division."
Al Baker warned that if Boeing can harvest a 5% fuel burn improvement as part of its 777-300ER improvement effort, "that alone will defeat the -1000 programme".
One leasing company source told Flightglobal: "Boeing will be very happy if Airbus builds the A350-1000 that it is talking about now."