The announcement last week that Hawaiian Airlines swapped its order for six Airbus A350-800s for the A330-800neo isn’t a particular surprise, although we thought HA might issue an RFP and open the competition for Boeing.
That it did not may speak as much as to lack of the Boeing 787’s availability as anything else. But Airbus had some advantages going into a replacement for the A358: HA already operates a fleet of A330-200(ceos), so there is commonality between the neo and the ceo, minimal integration costs and the likelihood of additional Airbus incentives to keep HA in the Airbus family.
Boeing would have had to offer up an entire fleet integration plan, exceptional pricing for the 787 and somehow find comparable delivery slots. This would have been a tough proposition.
With HA’s defection from the A358, there are now just 26 remaining orders.
The going assumption for the better part of a year has been that the A358 is a dead airplane. HA provides another nail in the coffin. Airbus continues to maintain the A358 will merely be resequenced to after the A350-1000, and now officials talk about a 2020 entry-into-service date. In the current design, we believe the A358 certainly is dead. But like the Phoenix, can it be resurrected?
Many think the A330neo is essentially a resurrected version of the original A350 concept from 2004. In reality, it’s quite a bit less than A350 V. 1.0., but the point is taken.
While the conventional wisdom is that the A350-800 is now dead if not totally buried, we’d like to offer an alternative view on its future. We’re not advocating this view to be the case, but rather as food for thought.
During the Airbus Innovation Days in June, Airbus Commercial CEO Fabrice Bregier told us that with some money and engineering, the A350-800 could become a good airplane.
This statement is revealing on a couple of levels, not the least of which is acknowledgement that the design isn’t a “good” airplane. Our analysis, and fleet planners we’ve talked to, note that the A358’s operating cost is about the same as the larger A350-900, which carriers more passengers—so why not go with the larger airplane? Most customers did.
A large part of the problem is that the A350-800 is simply a “cut and shut” shrink of the A350-900. Originally the A358 was to have its own landing gear and a lightened wing variant, optimized to the smaller airframe, but cost-cutting did away with this, and the A358 shares the A359’s landing gear and wing. In fact, it is only shortened by 10 fuselage frames and with only the top panel re-dimensioned to the lower load-case of a shorter fuselage.
Bregier’s comment about future investment and design parallels one by John Leahy, COO-Customers of Airbus, who has alluded to the need to work the A358 over a bit.
So our alternative scenario is this: suppose, after the A350-900 and -1000 enter service, Airbus no longer has the cash flow R&D demands associated with these derivatives, and tweaking the A358 into an optimized 250-passenger, new technology airplane that is common with the larger aircraft—and an EIS of around 2025, if not sooner, to replace the A330neos becomes the game plan?
Airbus claims it won’t need a new, clean-sheet replacement for the A320 family until a 2030 EIS (meaning a launch of about 2022-23). There is the prospect, however remote or realistic, of an A380neo with a 2020-21 EIS. An A350-800”P” (for Phoenix, rising from the ashes) could fit in this timeline.
A potential monkey wrench: we believe Boeing will launch replacements for the 757 and 737 families around 2018 with EIS around 2025 for the 757RS and 2027 for the 737RS. Airbus would be forced to accelerate its A320RS to match.
Will an A350-800P happen? Who knows—this is way too far in the future. But at some point, the A330 will need replacement with a newer technology platform. Resurrecting the A358 may be the answer as opposed to an entirely new airplane program.
As we said, food for thought.