With Airbus having achieved European certification of its 315-seat A350-900 and now making final preparations for first delivery this quarter to Qatar Airways, both major airframers will soon have a new widebody flying – giving added urgency to a market battle that has seen Boeing make the running for the three years since its 250-seat 787-8 entered service.
Boeing’s 290-seat 787-9 should also start reaching customers this year, and both companies are pushing to get even larger variants in service, with a the 369-seat A350-1000 targeted for service entry in 2017 and Boeing’s 330-seat 787-10 for 2018.
These various aircraft make up a complicated matrix of range and capacity options that highlight Airbus’s and Boeing’s differing visions of the future of long-haul travel.
More direct competition has been launched with Airbus’s A330neo, a smaller aircraft than the A350 that gives airlines an option aligned with 787. Then, from about 2020, the advent of Boeing’s -8X and -9X versions of its 777 will see A350 face a close rival in the 350-400 seat segment.
But for now Airbus is focused on achieving first delivery of its A350-900; Qatar boss Akbar Al-Baker is arguably the industry’s most finicky customer, but Airbus is confident that it will meet his high standards to close the pre-delivery phase of the programme before the end of 2014.
As Fernando Alonso, a 30-year Airbus veteran who now serves as senior vice president for flight and integration tests, explains in this video, he is especially proud of the fact that, with the A350 programme, “We have stuck to our commitments.”
Key promises made in 2012 were to run a 14-month certification campaign – including ground testing, flight testing and route proving – to certifcate in September 2014 and, ultimately, to achieve first delivery by the end of 2014.
Says Alonso: “We said we would deliver this airplane before the end of 2014. We will be ready.”