Airbus A350 start stretching its wings

By Bjorn Fehrm


May 6, 2015, c. Leeham Co. Qatar Airways, as the first operator of the Airbus A350, now has four months of experience of the new twin aisle aircraft. As we have described in Bjorn’s Corner two weeks ago, the introduction has gone well, without major incidents.


Qatar Airways’ A350 stretching its wings. Source: Airbus.

The first destination was Doha-Frankfurt, to be followed by Doha-Singapore on June 1. Both destinations are mid-range, with flying times of six to eight hours. These can be seen as introductory rotations, close to Qatar’s base should replacement aircraft or maintenance actions be needed.

With the first period in the bag, Qatar now feels confident enough to announce how they will take the A350 to its true job types. Here the relevant parts of what Qatar Airways announced Tuesday this week:

“Increasing passenger demand to America’s largest city and financial centre, New York, has prompted Qatar Airways to add a second daily service to the city from 1st March 2016. Qatar Airways has served the city daily since the initial route launch in 2007. The second daily service to New York’s JFK will be operated by the Airbus A350 XWB aircraft providing passengers an opportunity to experience both the Boeing B777 and the A350 aircraft types on the route.

“ From 16th March, 2016, the airline will launch daily flights to Boston, the capital and largest city of Massachusetts, and will operate its latest flagship A350 XWB in a two-class configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring an 80” fully flat bed and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screen.”

This is more challenging work for an A350 and we will therefore take a first look into what Qatar can expect in terms of overall aircraft performance on such destinations come spring next year.

Qatar’s A350 induction strategy

Qatar introduced the A350 on the Doha-Frankfurt rotation 15 January. With a distance of 2,500nm and flying times of six to eight hours, this is not stretching the legs of an aircraft like A350. This is rather a task for one of Qatar’s A330-300s.

But as an induction mission, it carries several perks. It has the outstation close to home for Qatar and is even closer to Airbus’ Hamburg spares headquarters. It is also smack on Airbus’ Frankfurt regional spares warehouse where we can expect most A350 parts to be stocked initially. Should any problem not be fixed by Airbus’ Frankfurt people, Airbus experts on any interior problem are just down the road in Hamburg or a flight away in Toulouse for anything else.

Should a replacement aircraft be needed, Qatar’s home base Doha is within half a day’s reach and they have many aircraft on European missions that could be rotated in to cover for any A350 problems.

The up-and-coming Singapore rotation is similar (it is about one and a half hour longer), therefore not the 12 to 14 hour flights for which the A350 was designed.

Long haul with A350

This week’s announcement from Qatar now changes that. The announced Doha-New York-JFK is 6,000nm great circle distance which, when flying west means air distances of up to 7,000nm equivalent range due to winds. This is close to the practical range of the Qatar’s A350.  This announcement thereby means the honeymoon for A350 is over and it’s time for work.

Both of the announced destinations are true long-haul rotations with flying times of 14 hours going from Doha to New York and 12 hours on the return leg. The Boston destination is 20 minutes shorter in both directions. This is then a good opportunity to look at what performance Qatar can expect from the A350, both in terms of additional revenue from cargo at different load factors and what fuel burn differences they will see compared to the Boeing 777-300ER that flies the New York rotation today.

When flying Doha-JFK, the aircraft will have to fly into persistent westerly winds. One can see on the planned flight time that the average covered air distance is then close to 7,000nm. At such distances and a realistic planning for alternates, there would be around five tonnes left for cargo at 80% load factor when passenger and bags have been loaded. Going home from JFK to Doha, this could increase to 15 tonnes of cargo as now the winds are in the back. Here the aircraft would be cargo space limited to about 10 tonnes as there would be 25 LD3 positions left after the LD3s with bags are loaded and one count with around 400kg cargo per LD3 equivalent as average density.

The 777-300ER, which is the present aircraft on the sector, takes 42 business passengers in 78 inch lie-flat seats in 2-2-2 and 293 economy seats in nine abreast. This shall be compared to A350’s 36 business in 1-2-1 lie-flat reverse herringbone and 247 economy in nine abreast. The A350 is thus 15% smaller in terms of capacity but our model says it would burn around 35% less fuel when both aircraft fly with 80% load factors and 10 tonnes of cargo. On a per transported passenger basis, this means the A350 will save Qatar around 15% on the fuel bill for its second New York rotation come next year, a nice incentive to deploy the A350 as a complement to the existing 777-300ER.


The A350 has benefited from an Airbus which has settled into one homogeneous company from a loose gathering of national European industries. It is the first new civil aircraft program that has been developed at the back of a troubled A380 project, which showed all the weaknesses of the earlier “Airbus Industries” consortium.

The first test period for this important program for Airbus has now passed and things look good. Qatar as the first operator now starts putting the aircraft on the jobs it was designed for. It will be interesting to follow, not only to see the aircraft’s reliability on these more demanding missions but also because now the A350 is used as intended and its true performance compared to the workhorses of today will be revealed.

44 Comments on “Airbus A350 start stretching its wings

  1. What are the projected savings for QR when they use their 787s to compliment their 777s? Can’t wait for that post. Go A350! go!

    • It would be similar, the problem for Qatar is that they only got the small version, 787-8 at 254 seats and that has an economy section which is a bit cramped for 14 hours.

      So to complement the 777 on such a long and high profile sector would be a downgrade if the 787-8 is used. That is a Qatar configuration decision more than a 787 characteristic.

  2. Hi Bjorn,

    what are the cargo loads on that route for the 777-300ER, for comparison?



    • It would be space limited in both directions at 34 LD3 positions ie 14 tonnes of cargo.

  3. Hello Bjorn,

    So that’s after 15 months in service at Qatar the A350 will go Long haul
    I remains to see if other early operators will have the same cautious approach !

    When I read the headlines, i was thinking that you would analyse the 275 t A350-900 that according to airbus is not needed for meeting the guaranteed performances
    I guess i’ll have to wait a little more

    Best regard

    • Chris, the A350 was delivered in December 2014. SO it has been in service only 4 months and a bit.

      • 15 months refers to when the flights to BOS will start (March 2016)

    • I checked this with Airbus, right now the deliveries are 268t, the 275t was certified as there were margins but is for later use.

  4. So serving the Eastcoast from Doha with the new Airbus means, that every 4th flight or so will be for free(fuelwise)! That´s a lot of dough to save with just 15 percent less passengers in a more comfy environment!It will be very interesting to see how the larger sibling(A350-1000) will perform in a couple a years compared to the triple 7.

    • The Qatar 777 are 9 abreast in economy with even a bit wider economy seats (18.9”). Sound wise the A350 is a treat though.

  5. OK. Now we know what QA want to do, it remains to know HOW they will do it.

    Of course, the first think to ask is which are the enabling tasks performed “without major inciden” and what the term “major” means. Airbus is notoriously silent, comparing with its loud praising, to supply details. If I am wrong, pls, let us know in your next blog message some info, to be commented by the readers

    The program you prise, to be performed 10 month from now is by contrast really extraordinary in it precision and detail. Some suspicious minds could think that such, with do not means really nothing, i being released to sooth doubts regarding the long drougt of or. Of course, if they are ready sooner, they will not wait until the sheduled date, if they are late, there are dozens of
    arguments, true or not, which can be presented.

    By the way, thinking of the DELTA intention to buy a combined a combined fleet of A359 and A300neo, I just read an article in the March 2015 AVIATION WEEK, stating that this aircraft is a VERY BAD IDEA, qualifying it in the hardest terms. Here too I would appreciate your comments and the proposed specs for this aircraft (so to be commented by the LEEHAM BLOGGERS) which do not appear in any of the usual sources. I again could be wrong, but if at this time only exist was presented a long while ago, the same suspicious minds could remember what happened with the first A350, which was practically a first edition of a A300neo. i.e the project being scrapped after having sold a good number!! I would appreciate your collaboration.

    • “‘without major inciden’ and what the term ‘major’ means”
      The two A350 had a better dispatch reliability rate than the 787 fleet today. These are just two aircraft and statistic may be somehow problematic (student factor) but with just two aircraft you can not cheat much, e.g. replace a defect 787 with another one for a perfect dispatch reliability.

      “I just read an article in the March 2015 AVIATION WEEK”
      Just put a link here and we can discuss the article.

      “[…] which was practically a first edition of a A300neo.”
      Dare to explain was a 737MAX is?

    • Re Qatar’s experience with A350 so far, it was in the text, read my corner from 2 weeks back.

      Re the A330neo you have numerous articles on the subject since last summer and autumn, use the blogs search function.

    • as I understand it you are not convinced in Airbus products and processes and rational argument is unlikely to change that

    • Auch! 😉

      While the mid-sized A350-900 recently added to Qatar’s fleet is “head and shoulders” above Boeing models, the U.S. company’s 777X-9 will probably form the backbone of fleets of many major airlines once it’s introduced at the end of the decade, Al Baker said at a conference in Dubai on Wednesday. Airbus should consider an A350 type larger than the -1000 stretch version to retaliate, he said.

      • And he won’t buy any more A380s!

        Well maybe used! (grin)

        • You’re talking about A388ceos and not A388neos, right? 😉

          Akbar Al Baker on A380: The Doha boss says the carrier’s latest financial results will not be as good as estimated and he has but the blame on Airbus and the delays in delivery of its A380s. “[We’re] not going to get any more A380s unless there is an absolute rethink on this airplane. Airbus have to put hands in their pocket”. Al Baker says he wants new engines that will have a 10 to 15 percent better fuel burn.

          • Well I think its what Al Bakar thinks that counts, my take is he means A380-800CEOs and as he won’t be getting A380NEO either 800 or 900 that means (assuming we can take Al at his word) no more A380-800CEO.

            Not that he is the only player but…..

        • “and as he won’t be getting A380NEO either 800 or 900”

          If that’s what you want to believe, fine.

          However, in order to remain competitive with Emirates post 2023, when the new Al Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central (DWC) airport is scheduled to open with 100 contact stands for the A380 in phase-1 and another 100 in phase 2, Qatar Airways will probably order a bucketload of A380neos as well – NB: EK A380 fleet size could be at 300 + units well before 2030.

  6. Bjorn, using your calculations, if we can do a post on EK using an A359 or 789 to compliment their mighty A380s. Will it be a question of “if” or “when” EK orders either or both. Please write it now please, please!

    • It won’t be a 359 or 789, it will be 359 or 7810. I am not convinced that order will be placed on efficiency conditions alone, need to understand the situation better before we write anything.

  7. Dispatch realibility, if used, says very little about aircraft reliability. It basicly measures if a flight (number) left on time. If e.g. a A350 is left smoking on the platform, but an A330 is quickly pulled to the gate and leaves on time, dispatch reliability for that flight is 100%.

    Not suggesting that this happened at Qatar 😉 But is was used to suggest (not claim) high reliability to the bigger, moderately informed, public at some other recent aircraft introductions.

    • Not quite true, Keesje, “dispatch reliability” takes into account delays greater than 15 min, equipment substitutions, and cancellations.
      You’ve tried to confuse this issue in the past……..

      • No Timm. If the flight is not delayed, dispatch reliability is ok. Regardless of what happened to the scheduled aircraft or what replaced it.

        “Technical dispatch reliability
        The ratio of the number of flights delayed because of technical faults to the total number of flights, expressed as a percentage. Delays caused by other reasons are not to be taken into account for this calculation.”
        An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

        • Sorry, Keesje, but equipment substitutions do count against the aircraft type. They would not count against on-time departure of a particular flight, but that different from dispatch reliability of a particular aircraft type.
          Disclosure: I worked with dispatch reliability numbers on a daily basis during a particularly painful part of my career with one of the aircraft OEMs.

  8. Please, Scott, I dont understand. When you estimate the freight the plane can carry, you take 400 kg for each LD3.
    But according to the usual ratio (161 kg / LD3), I get around 640 kg / LD3, since a LD3 is around 4 m3.

    See for example :,d.d24

    “The results from both of these activities reveal an average cargo density of160 kg per cubic metre”


    • @laurent that is a question for Bjorn, not me. Scott

    • Hi Laurent, that is for pallet cargo in a freighter and I have the same numbers. The LD3 cans are smaller with non optimal form (the wing etc). I have got the 400kg from statistical sources but be sure that is an average and it can go all the way up to the LD3 or cargo position maximum which is around 1500kg. There’s a fun discussion on Airliners that fish is the typical heavy LD3 load.

      • I’m also speaking of average (and all over the world), and not only for all cargo (see below “and mixed operations)” :

        “With regard to cargo, about 85 per cent of air carriers agreed that, for statistical purposes,161 kg per cubic meter is a fair average cargo density across their international and domestic all-cargo and mixed operations. ”

        And the not optimal situation with LD3 can’t create such a difference.
        What statistical sources do you use ?

    • Al Baker said also:
      “Unless Airbus goes a step higher than A350-1000, the (Boeing) 777-9X will be the backbone of a lot of airlines,”

      The first costumer calls for an A350-1100!

  9. Theories:

    Likely, a stretched -1000 will be launched as will an ultra-long range -900 using wings and engines from -1000 or -1100. The A350 needs legs to fly from the ME to California. No doubt on that one.

    Likely, at that time because of maturity and weight issues, the A350 will again be head and shoulder above Boeing 777-x

    Qatar will be all over the stretched -1000 and will also order more A 380 to compete with Emirates.

    EK may get the 78710 because is perhaps more economical for the medium range missions or the A350 regional fos comparable economics and A380 piggy bagging.

  10. The headline is a bit misleading…

    it should read “Airbus A350 _planned to_ start stretching its wings in 10 months”

    the headline makes it sound like it is already stretching…

  11. But look how graceful those wings are. The high aspect ratio is changing how all these aircraft look for the better. B787 was pretty, a350 totally stunning and perhaps the b777x will be even more so. An aesthetical improvement methinks. All we have to do is slap a hinge on the A380 and stretch them out to 95m (ahem)

  12. When do we get some more A350s into the mix.

    It seems we got two pretty quick and now>

  13. It seems A350 deliveries have had a slow start indeed. Many in the pipeline though, I understand. Same as A380 if I remember well.

  14. Better hope not, A380 had wiring problems and took two years to sort out (we won’t talk about how long the 787 took to sort out!)

    I would not be surprised slower ramp up, its an all new gig to assemble, once you try to ramp up the pace it gets tougher.

    • The wiring problems were due to a software issue and detected with assembly of the first aircraft but at that time several wiring sets were already produced.

      The main problem with the 787 still are unexpected errors during service like burning batteries and now generator reset every 120 days…

      Qatar Airways is now operating with A350 aircraft number 6 and 7.
      Of the early 20 787s only 4 are operated by an airline today. According to 1 aircraft is “planned”, 3 more are “on order”, 4 are “stored” one is “preserved” and no information about 5 others.

      Al Baker was complaining about teething issues with the 787 while Qatar Airlines first 787 was number 57.

      • On the surface the a350 programme has appeared measured and without problem. Airbus seem to have pulled out all the stops to ensure there are no snarl ups. At the moment we have conflicting signals, a slow initial ramp up in terms of deliverys but a confidence of delivering more by year end than initially expected.

        We don’t know what is correct but Airbus have gained my confidence by their track record recently on this programme in much the same way that I dont believe Boeing after their B787 debacle

      • MHalblaub:

        787s least of their current problems are batteries (though certainly a watch item) and the stack over flow on the generator controls while embarrassing is pretty simple.

        One of the biggest issues was the excessive faults generated by the computer system. To high a level for low level issues.

        Add in some immature systems (hydraulic pumps) that failed prematurely and you had a bit of a mess.

        Pretty much all related to an all new design that did not use proven components.

        The 787 terrible teens are finding homes but they sure were not sought after (great deals from Boeing). Must be some spectacular promises to get them sold (unlimited lifetime support?)

        It is interesting that Boeing has a huge lead including the re-design of the A330 to Rev 4 that led to the A350. Airbus took advantage of that as well as proven systems and did much better though how ramp up goes will see.

        As RR found with the A380 engine and GE found with the 787s engines, once you go into serie3s production and change things, some odd things can happen.

        Very fortunately in both cases it did not result in a crash.

        Still there are close to 300 787s flying and the horror stores seem to have subsided.

      • What are you talking about? Are you saying that the 787 requires 4 frames as spares for a single flight? If true that would be very interesting for an airline to manage and it would certainly reflect in a number of cancelations that have been seen.

        The A350 has had a wonderful introduction and Airbus has done their homework well. Impressive. After Boeing did such a wonderful job with the 787 I would assume Airbus to be completely on the other side of the scale. If it produces positive results then hats off to them.

        Mr Al seems to be speaking to Airbus with these comments. He wants options when he goes to Boeing to buy more 777-9Xs. Without an Airbus comp he has little choice to argue. “The A350 is by far better, and get me some options for Boeing and those crazy US airlines.” Next month it will be something else. Seeking deals.

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