Airbus concedes that the last-minute postponement of the first A350-900 delivery to Qatar Airways came after it was overly optimistic with the interval allowed for the acceptance process, but the manufacturer is confident the handover can still be completed this year.

Delivery to the type's launch customer was held up by minor technical matters requiring a small amount of additional testing before Qatar Airways will agree to accept the aircraft, says Airbus.

Handover of the first of 80 A350s to Qatar Airways had been due to take place tomorrow in Toulouse, following formal transfer from Airbus's industrial division to its delivery centre on 3 December. The milestone was to have been marked at a ceremony in Doha on 15 December, attended by the airline's chief executive Akbar Al Baker.

With four days to go before the planned Toulouse handover, Qatar revealed that plans to take the aircraft had been "postponed until further notice". It added: "With the imminent launch of the new Airbus A350 programme, both entities are committed to introducing the A350 very soon."

A350 programme chief Didier Evrard, speaking during an investor forum in London yesterday, said the 10-day interval that Airbus had allowed between handover from the production arm to the delivery centre was normal but suggested it was a "little optimistic" for the first example of a new aircraft.

While Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders has played down the delay, saying that "the aircraft is on the tarmac, ready to be delivered", Evrard confirms that more testing is being carried out. Three flights had been conducted, he says, and "we'll have to do two or three more" to ensure everything had been properly tested and that Qatar Airways is satisfied with the aircraft.

Evrard says he has a "high level of confidence" that the aircraft will be delivered by year-end, as planned.

Unless the issues are resolved quickly to clear the way for deliveries to begin promptly, it will be a challenge for Qatar Airways to meet its target of debuting the type on services from Doha to Frankfurt in mid-January.

The airline has orders for 43 A350-900s, with the remainder of its order comprising 37 of the A350-1000 stretch. It had previously said it expected to have eight A350s in its fleet before the end of 2015.

This is the second high-profile Airbus delivery hold-up involving Qatar Airways this year. Back in June, plans for a multi-aircraft handover of the airline's first A380s were dropped after contract wrangles which Al Baker blamed on issues with "the interior and the exterior" of the aircraft.

Additional reporting by David Kaminski-Morrow

Source: Cirium Dashboard