Airbus is expecting the A350 to form a good part of the Chinese airlines' widebody fleet in the medium term, though the A330 continues to serve as their widebody workhorse for now.
The country will only get its first A350-900 in the second half of 2017, when Air China receives one, Airbus China president Eric Chen told FlightGlobal at the Farnborough air show.
Air China and China Eastern Airlines are the only Chinese customers for the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered aircraft at present, with combined orders for 30.
The A350 was originally scheduled for an eight-day promotional tour of China in late June, but Chen says this was postponed as the manufacturer did not have enough time to clear new Chinese customs regulations. The tour is now scheduled for November.
He argues, however, that the aircraft is of the right size and range to help Chinese carriers serve long-haul services to Europe and North America as outbound passenger flow continues to boom.
But he cautions that the market will take time to first absorb the 75 A330s it signed for when Airbus inked a deal to set up an A330 completions line in Tianjin last year. Chen has also said that the lack of early available slots for the type is a challenge for the manufacturer as it pitches the type to Chinese customers.
"From 2020-2025: that is the period when Chinese carriers will require massively the A350 to serve long-haul operations. Today, the A330 can perform the mission of most of these routes," says Chen.