Cathay Pacific has given the Airbus A350-1000 programme a long-awaited confidence vote with its order for 26 of the type, 10 of which are new business.

Airbus chief Fabrice Bregier insists that the twinjet ordered by the Hong Kong-based carrier has the same specification as the aircraft unveiled at the Paris air show last year following an extensive redesign.

"We didn't change it [for Cathay]," Bregier says. "We don't intend to change it."

Cathay chief John Slosar says the aircraft specification - a capability of operating 8,400nm - will enable it to "connect more and more important cities worldwide directly with Hong Kong".

Shortly before Airbus's disclosure of the Cathay decision - which will make it the largest -1000 customer - Emirates had again expressed its reservations about the changes made following its own order for 20 of the previous design.

"We are not particularly impressed with what [Airbus has] done," said Emirates Airline president Tim Clark. "I think they reacted to what they thought was the market requirement. It would have helped if they'd spoken to us first.

"They produced a new specification for the aircraft which, in my view, fell short of where it should be."

But he says Emirates is "very interested" in Boeing's proposed modernisation of the 777. "I think we were very instrumental in getting [the 777-300ER] designed and built in the way that we'd asked them to do it," he says. "And the [GE90] engines are absolutely superb."

Clark says the 777 is a "great aircraft" and wants to ensure there is a replacement available by the time the first -300ERs drop out of the fleet around 2017.

He believes the "quagmire" of the 787 programme compromised Boeing's forward planning for 777 evolution. "They're through that now, and they've put a lot of attention and intellectual power into getting this [777 successor] to where we would like it.

"Two years ago they had it in a position that we were very interested in it. We asked them to do a few more things, they've been working on that."

Given the timeline for the 777X, already likely to be behind the A350-1000 entry, Clark cautions that Boeing should not hesitate but "press ahead and get the job done".

"Faffing around and waiting to see what [Airbus] does to the -1000 or the -900 makes no sense at all. If you've a good product and people are interested in it, you go for it - don't worry about what the competition is doing."

Bregier insists the A350-1000 will be a "game changer" and adds: "As an all-new design, it will outperform existing aircraft in its size category on every count - as well as any future derivatives of those aircraft."

Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy insists that previous A350-1000 customers - comprising Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Asiana - do not necessarily have to switch to the revamped model.

"They could stay at the lower gross weight," he says. "We can make that less-capable version. Cathay looked at it - and said 'no'."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news