Qatar Airways backs Airbus rethink on A350-800 design

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Airbus A350 XWB launch customer Qatar Airways has declared itself pleased with the airframer's rethink on the -800 variant, which is now based directly on the -900 to offer greater commonality and more range.

The rethink was agreed last year in conjunction with the customers, ahead of the second A350 variant's reaching its design freeze milestone in December.

"An A350-800 with longer range has more appeal as it differentiates it from the [Boeing] 787-8 and allows operation of long, thin routes," says Qatar Airways. It adds that it also likes the fact that it now has "a high degree of commonality with the A350-900".

Airbus' A350 programme marketing chief Sophie Pendaries says: "The planned optimisation of the -800's design - slight changes to the structure and landing gear, tyre and brake changes - was not bringing the expected benefits."

Consequently, Airbus decided to base the shorter model directly on the -900, and trade any penalties against a significant range improvement. The A350-800 now has identical structure and gear to the -900, the lead variant, while the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines will be offered at two thrust levels: a baseline 79,000lb (352kN) and a 74,000lb derate.

The maximum take-off weight rises by 11t over the previous plan, to 259t, with the old variant's 248t still offered as an option. Range at the higher weight increases by 460km (250nm) to 15,860km, or payload by 3t. Standard three-class seating remains the same, at 270 passengers.

By not optimising the structure and having higher-thrust engines, the reworked -800 has a fuel burn penalty of "a few per cent", although Pendaries claims that its advantage over the rival 787 is unchanged as that programme is not meeting its original performance promises.

Airbus says the new A350 offers up to 1,670km more range than any 787 variant and, compared with the 777-200ER, it has a 1,300km advantage and up to 25% lower block fuel per seat.

The development timetable remains unchanged, with the -800 due to enter service with launch customer Qatar Airways around a year after the -900, in the second half of 2014.

Qatar Airways, which is launch customer for all XWB variants, says it fully supported Airbus in last year's rethink. Airbus has orders for 182 A350-800s, a further 248 for the -900 and 75 for the -1000 stretch.