Qatar Airways, to much fanfare, took delivery today of the first commercial A350-900. Not only is this the first serial production A350 to be delivered to a customer, it is also the first of 80 A350s headed for Qatar Airways. Qatar has 36 additional -900s on order as well as 43 -1000s.
The A350 itself represents a technological leap for Airbus, as it is their first aircraft to be over 50% composite materials; 53%, technically – including the longest manufactured single pieces of carbon fiber that make up the wing assembly. The remainder of the aircraft is made up of modern metallurgical feats that manifest themselves as lighter titanium and aluminum alloys.
If that wasn’t enough to impress you, the A350 is the first aircraft certified by the EASA to operate ETOPS 370 missions prior to entry-into-service (EIS). ETOPS 370 is the next phase of Extended-range Twin Operations, allowing an aircraft to be certified to fly on one engine for more than six hours. This opens up a whole host of new destinations for twin-engine aircraft, as well as adds efficiencies to existing air routes as airlines will no longer have to “hug” strategic alternate airports as tightly.
From a passenger perspective, the A350 represents a step up from previous Airbuses as well, featuring similar technology seen on the Boeing 787. The cabin is more humid, better lit, and obscenely quiet.
In the case of Qatar Airways, their A350-900s will feature 36 business class seats with an 80″ bed and 17″ HD IFE system. There is also an in-flight bar. Economy will be 18″ wide seats with a traditional 3-3-3 layout. IFE will feature a 10.6″ screen.
This is an aircraft so fantastic that when Rolls Royce held a parade for the first production Trent XWB engine, 6,000 people came out.
Okay, enough with the facts: time to get to the fun stuff – time with the actual aircraft and the delivery ceremony!
There was some controversy with the delivery, since it was supposed to happen earlier in the month. That said, we now know that the A350 delivery was not delayed because of anything Airbus did. It was delayed because of some issues with a buyer-furnished-equipment supplier. Even then, it was still – technically – delivered ahead of schedule.
There was a brief press conference, where the EIS date for Qatar’s A350 was reaffirmed as January 15, 2015 (to Frankfurt). We also learned that Qatar Airways will likely be sending it to St. Petersburg at some point. Curiously, there was discussion of bringing the aircraft into Heathrow – but it was not elaborated upon. Best of all during the press conference was Akbar Al Baker’s statement that numerous airlines around the world could be offering products as high-quality and class-leading as Qatar Airways – but instead choose to rely on protectionism to swindle their customers (paraphrasing, of course).
I am not sure what airlines he had in mind when he said that, but I will hazard a guess and say “all of them”. Regarding the protectionism, we can assume that he is talking about airlines from a select few Northern Hemisphere countries that see the Gulf Carriers (such as Qatar, Etihad, and Emirates) not as competition- but as existential threats.
After the speeches concluded, it was time for an art and trophy exchange. It seems, unlike Boeing, Airbus prefers sculpture to a set of symbolic keys.
The A350-900 boasts a ridiculously low fuel-burn per seat. Allegedly, lower than the 787-9. This feat was so noteworthy that it demanded a performance by the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra. Okay, maybe that’s not why they performed – but that makes a lot more sense for the narrative.
When MSN006 arrives in Doha, there will be another ceremony in early January. Eight days after that, it will enter into service. We will be there to enjoy in the festivities.
For those of us that live in America, we can probably expect to see Qatar Airways A350s showing up on the “eastern seaboard” some time in 2015.
As part of the media event, we were given a special 45-minute flight around Toulouse to check out the new aircraft. I will be sharing my experience, photos, and thoughts in a future story on that flight.
Airbus provided flights and accommodation for us to cover this story. Opinions are our own.