Several years ago, Airbus studied whether to launch another derivative of the A350, a stretch of the -1000 that was given the unofficial moniker A350-2000. LNA’s economic analysis concluded the airplane would roughly be the same as the 777-9. This was not a compelling case for 777-300ER operators to switch from Boeing to Airbus.
Now, years later, with Rolls-Royce developing the advanced Ultra Fan engine which in theory will be available by 2025, LNA’s quick analysis of this prospective airplane indicates it would be 10% more economical than the 777-9.
This, then, becomes a selling point to win over 777-300ER operators who face aging aircraft replacement decisions from the early 2020s.
Boeing has a major head start in the 400-450 seat sector. There are 340 orders for the 777-8/9, most of which are for the larger -9. However, some 72% of these are with the Middle East Big 3 airlines, which are now facing over-capacity and in the case of Etihad Airways, is in dire financial trouble.
Airbus would face an uphill fight with the A350-2000 in a sector—400-450 seats—that is shrinking. Airlines previously surveyed by LNA said the 777-9 is too big.
They also said the A350-1000 was too big, preferring the smaller A350-900 and Boeing 787-9/10.
While an A350-2000 might struggle, and certainly there would be no business case for Roll-Royce to provide an Ultra Fan for the -2000 alone, the addition of the -2000 would fill out the A350 family in a way that has been missing since Airbus canned the A350-800.
A Rolls-Royce Ultra Fan for all three models would make a better business case for RR; it would give Airbus an airplane that is significantly better than the 777-9; and make the A350 better than the 787.
All this is hypothesis, of course. But there is logic to this scenario.