Airbus acknowledges that the decision not to optimise the A350-800 and instead develop it as a shrink of the -900 does have a weight and fuel-burn penalty of "a few percent". However it denies that the decision to focus on range capability rather than optimum operating costs has irritated some customers wanting to use the aircraft on shorter routes.

"The customers have mostly endorsed that decision [to create the -800 as a shrink of the -900]," says A350 chief engineer Gordon McConnell.

Airbus presented the revised -800 to current and potential customers during April's annual A350 programme progress review in Nantes (Airbus says non-XWB-customer attendees included Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa).

Flight International understands that some attendees have been unhappy with the plan to trade operating economics for range and lower ownership cost with the decision not to optimise the design of the -800 around reduced weights. Airbus denies this, although McConnell concedes that "trying to keep all the airlines happy at the same time is not easy".

Qatar A350XWB
 © Tim Bicheno-Brown/Flightglobal

He says that Airbus has "to develop an aircraft that everyone wants" and points out that despite the -800's increased weights which boost range by 460km (250nm), it has retained the original basic weights "because they will be more interesting to airlines who are flying regional operations, and we'll probably offer some even lower take-off weights for customers with very short-range activities".

Despite the fuel burn penalty, McConnell says that the A350-800 retains a very strong advantage in operating economics over the airframer's current long-range twin, the A330-200.

"The A350-800 has got about 1,400nm [2,590km] more range with 30 more passengers, but it's burning less fuel too - over a 4,000nm [7,400km] mission the A350-800 burns around 23% less fuel [per seat] than an A330-200," McConnell says.

He also dismisses the notion that the decision to revise the A350-800 into a heavier, longer-range aircraft could leave a niche open for the smaller, lighter A330-200. "The economics mean that once this aircraft is available, people will not probably chose to buy our A330-200 any more," he says.

Source: Flight International