Qatar Airways became the largest customer for Airbus's A350 XWBs at the show with an order for 80 aircraft, but has been frustrated by the airframer's tardiness in providing detailed and reliable specification and performance data for the new twinjet.
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The Doha-based airline - which currently operates a large, all-Airbus fleet but is soon to add its first Boeing 777-300ER - retains its position as launch operator from mid-2013, but its chief executive Akbar Al Baker told Flight International he had been frustrated by the lack of detailed information that Airbus has been providing during negotiations: "For a launch customer we have been provided with remarkably limited information on the evolution of the A350 XWB design.
"We hope that now the purchase agreement is signed, we will be able to have a more detailed understanding of what specification choices are being considered by Airbus as the design crystalises."
Airbus president and chief executive Louis Gallois robustly dismissed doubts raised by rival Boeing that Airbus is some way from finalising the twinjet's basic performance, saying that the airframer has issued contractual guarantees to its customers. "I will send my friend [Boeing chairman] Jim McNerney a brochure on the A350," he says.
Although Airbus is close to the A350's design freeze, the definition freeze is not scheduled until late next year when it will then publish the aircraft's specification for the first time.
With this information unavailable, Qatar Airways has had to define in detail what its expects from the A350 XWB by way of specification and performance and then make this a contractual obligation, says Al Baker.
"This part of the airline's purchase agreement is larger than the document that currently serves as Airbus's interim specification," he says, adding that the airline was heavily involved in the previous definitions of the A350, but unlike its continued participation with Boeing in the detailed definition of the 787 and 747-8, it "has not been encouraged by Airbus to participate in the development of the A350 XWB specification - we aim to change this".
Al Baker declines to comment on continuing industry speculation linking Qatar Airways with an order for the 787.
He says he is confident that the Airbus will use the five years by which the A350 trails the 787 to produce a "worthy competitor", adding: "This programme is too vital for Airbus to be anything other than very focused on producing an excellent design."
By the end of the show, firm orders for A350 orders stood at 154 and Leahy expects this will exceed 200 by the end of the year.
Source: Flight International