Airbus chief operating officer for customer John Leahy has confessed that the European airframer was caught out by underestimating Boeing's ability to deliver on its 787 promises.

Speaking during Airbus’ annual technical briefing in Toulouse, Leahy said that Airbus was “caught napping” when Boeing was developing the 787.

He says that, following Boeing’s failed Sonic Cruiser programme, Airbus did not believe that the US airframer would be able to deliver its initial 787 specifications. “Our first reaction was that they were exaggerating what they could do,” says Leahy.

Airbus thought the 787’s efficiency gains would be achieved through engine development, driving the original decision to base the A350 on the A330 airframe.

The European airframer subsequently ditched this plan and came up with the all-new A350 XWB design. Leahy makes light of the preceding attempts and indecision at the manufacturer: “To everyone that was writing that we redesigned the aircraft six or seven times: we didn’t. We redesigned it three times, and that was enough.”

Despite delays to the type’s eventual entry into service, anticipated for mid-2013, Leahy says: “This will be the year for A350 XWB orders. We are a bit late, but a lot of airlines are saying this is an aircraft worth waiting for. We’ll see if they do wait.”