Air Lease Corporation chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy has echoed concerns expressed by Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar Airways over the performance of the revamped Airbus A350-1000, speaking to Air Transport Intelligence at the ISTAT Europe finance conference in Barcelona.
"Airbus is going to have to work really hard with Rolls-Royce to come up with the right recipe to make this airplane really competitive," said Udvar-Hazy, referring to competition with the Boeing 777-300ER. Airbus outlined performance changes to the A350-1000 at the Paris air show in June, with the main one being a higher-thrust Rolls-Royce Trent XWB powerplant.
"The concern we have now is the planned engine for the -1000 is not interchangeable on the -900XWB - there is a lack of commonality," he said.
In common with the Gulf carriers, Udvar-Hazy is concerned about the performance of the A350-1000, especially in hot and high conditions such as those in the Middle East.
"Airbus has to tackle payload range [with the -1000] not only in the context of a full passenger load but it also needs good freight capacity because airlines need that revenue in the belly," he said.
It is critical that the -1000 does not fall short of the 777-300ER, which is the performance benchmark in this category, he said. "Boeing has the incumbent advantage because it can keep improving the existing 777."
Udvar-Hazy, who has worked closely with the manufacturer since it began studying a new aircraft in this market segment several years ago, is encouraging Airbus to make improvements to the A350-1000.
Concentrating on the larger -1000 and delaying the service entry of the smaller A350-800 is a "wise" move, he said.
In addition, high oil prices have somewhat spiked the case for the -800. For Udvar-Hazy, the existing Airbus product in this category is still a valid option. "A330s can do a lot of what the -800 can do for a lower capital cost," he said.
"Airbus is taking a more cautious course," said Udvar-Hazy. "If it doesn't get the -1000 right it doesn't have anything between the -900 and the A380.
"The A350 is the big volume widebody market for Airbus [in terms of units]," he said. "It is the backbone of its widebody strategy going forward."
According to Udvar-Hazy, the priority for Airbus is to develop the A350-900 and -1000 family to compete effectively with Boeing's 787-9 and 777 families.