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Qatar set for another giant stride forward

Posted 2 January 2018 · Add Comment

The first Airbus A350-1000, the largest version of the A350 XWB twin-aisle airliner, will be delivered to Qatar Airways by the end of the year. But, asks Alan Dron, how will it fare in the Middle East?

As with the earlier A350-900, Qatar Airways will again be the launch customer for the newest variant of the Airbus A350 XWB.
This is unsurprising, considering the degree of input that Qatar Airways had in developing the A350 design. And, even if the political problems between Doha and other Arab capitals remain unresolved by the end of the year, the country’s flag-carrier will doubtless crank up its PR machine to demonstrate it remains at the forefront of modern airliner technology.
Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, is, of course, a notoriously demanding customer and he has not been slow to walk away from aircraft purchases if they do not meet his standards. The A320neo, with its problematic Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines, is an obvious example. Qatar Airways cancelled the first four of the type when the engine issues could not be resolved in time.
Similarly, he has this year walked away from four A350-900s because of late deliveries from Airbus.
Qatar’s relationship with the A350 XWB has been problematic from the outset. When the carrier was due to take delivery, as launch customer, of the first A350-900 three years ago, Al Baker postponed the handover for more than a week while last-minute difficulties with the cabin interior were sorted out. And the CEO has complained vociferously that delays in delivering A350s have held up plans to roll out new destinations.
At a press conference in Doha in August, Al Baker said the airline had been reassured by the European manufacturer that the first -1000 would be in the Gulf in 2017: “It is now in the certification process and Airbus has assured us that we will receive it late, but we will receive it before the end of the year.” Qatar Airways has 37 -1000s on order.
Whether any more will be delivered before 2018 remains uncertain. Asked if more would be handed over before the turn of the year, Airbus said: “It is our customer’s privilege to confirm the delivery dates of the second aircraft.”
Qatar Airways plans to use the -1000 on routes to Asia, Europe and the US, although it has yet to announce the precise routes on which it will initially be deployed.
As of late August, Airbus had three aircraft engaged in an intensive flight-test campaign, with more than 1,250 hours in the air. Type certification for the A350-1000 is scheduled for Q4 2017.
Middle East customers account for around 35% of the A350-1000 order book. At the time of writing, Qatar Airways had signed for 37, Etihad Airways for 22 and Iran Air for 16, out of a total -1000 order book of 212 aircraft, said Fouad Attar, head of Airbus Commercial, Africa and Middle East. “We also have on-going campaigns for the A350-1000 and A350-900 in the region and we are confident that more orders will come soon.”
Overall, the A350 XWB order book had reached 848, from 45 airlines, by the end of summer 2017.
The A350-1000 is seven metres longer than the A350-900, which allows it to carry around 40 additional passengers compared to its smaller sister. It has a 28tonne greater maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 308tonnes. And Airbus has already issued data on a new variant – WV001 – that will have a 311tonne MTOW, with the same 156,000litre usable fuel capacity as the 308tonne version.
The A350-1000 will compete against Boeing’s 777 and, in future, its 777X range. Given the popularity of the 777 in the Middle East and its established position in many of the region’s fleets, it is likely to be a tough battle.
Airbus is pinning considerable hope on the fact that the A350 XWB is a clean-sheet design, with the -1000 the only completely new-generation design in its size category. In a typical three-class configuration (business, premium economy and economy), it will seat 366 travellers with a long-range capability of around 7,950nm (14,800km).
The A350-1000 will have a larger area devoted to premium cabins, reflecting airlines’ increasing desire to maximise high-yield passengers. As a rough rule of thumb, the profit from one business-class passenger can be the same as 10 economy-class passengers travelling on the cheapest, restricted fares.
The manufacturer also claims that the combination of advanced aerodynamics and other incremental innovations, such as the extended use of carbon fibre, gives it a 25% reduction in operating cost compared to “the current long-range competitor”, namely the 777. However, the forthcoming 777X range will provide considerably better operating costs to airlines than its predecessor.
The sole engine for the A350-1000 will be the most powerful version of Rolls-Royce’s Trent powerplant, the XWB-97. As its designation indicates, it will be capable of producing 97,000lbs of thrust at take-off, compared to 84,000lbs on the smaller A350-900. This makes it the most powerful engine ever developed for an Airbus aircraft.
Although the -97 has many attributes of the -84, it is considerably more than just a ‘tweaked’ version of the smaller engine, says Rolls-Royce. “If you are thinking that this is just an upgraded version of the -84 and so does not require the same amount of development work, testing and proving, then think again,” Simon Burr, Rolls-Royce’s chief operating officer for civil large engines told the company’s customer magazine as the -97 was being developed.
“The -97 does, of course, have many attributes that are similar to its sister Trent, but it is also very different in some of the advanced technologies it employs to produce the extra thrust and optimum aircraft performance.
“The Trent XWB-97 will be the highest-thrust engine we have ever certified, using the highest operating temperatures and the most advanced cooling systems we have ever designed in a civil engine. We are working at the leading edge of technology, but that is what you do to produce the world’s most efficient engines.”
The -97 was certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on August 31 this year. Its front fan has the same number of blades and the same diameter (118 inches/300cms) as the -84, but turns around 6% faster. The powerplant’s core has grown to cope with the increased airflow generated by the faster-turning fan.
Additionally, new materials and coatings have been developed to cope with the higher temperatures produced in the engine.
With these specially tailored Trent XWB powerplants, the A350-1000 will be capable of supporting long-haul routes such as Dubai-Melbourne, as well as for emerging markets such as Shanghai-Boston or Paris-Santiago.
The aircraft features Airbus’ new Airspace cabin concept, with nine-abreast seating in economy, as opposed to the 10-abreast that airlines increasingly shoehorn into their aircraft. Airspace aims to maximise features such as shoulder- and leg-room (partly by removing the irritating in-flight entertainment system boxes that used to lurk under many seats), introducing new ambient lighting systems and enlarging overhead bins for luggage.
Other features available on the aircraft will be connectivity for both e-mail and Wi-Fi, while Airbus claims that the A350-1000 will have cabin noise levels eight times lower than previous-generation aircraft.
The aircraft also makes considerable advances in the increasingly important area of environmental acceptability. Airbus claims the A350-1000 produces 25% lower CO₂ emissions and a 40% smaller noise footprint than previous-generation competitors.
Airbus believes that the A350 XWB’s common type rating with the smaller A330neo will also prove to be an attraction for airlines seeking to minimise operating costs and having a pool of pilots that can switch between the two types. Attar noted that 86% of A350 customers are also A330 customers or operators.
 

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