Airbus A350XWB: Airbus’s Hope

Despite the problems which Airbus had with the A380, the company has a new trump card for holding a share of the widebody market: The A350XWB, which seems to going better than predicted.

A Airbus A350XWB, here in the livery of Qatar Airways, the launch customer of the aircraft. Photo Source: Airbus

Is well-known that Airbus had a bad gamble with the Airbus A380, which sales are becoming more scarce, not just due to the fact that is big, inefficient & inflexible, with airlines already dumping some older, inefficient units (Singapore Airlines) & the prospect of renewal of the A380 is indeed remote, much because of those factors. But Airbus still has motives to get happy about its widebody portfolio: The A350XWB, which is being introduced in the World’s airlines, has its entry in service going smoothly, despite some quality problems affecting some A350XWBs, much because of the poor quality of the seats in the cabin of the airplanes of some airlines (provided by Zodiac Aerospace), like Finnair or Cathay Pacific.

The A350XWB is the Airbus’s bet against Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and 777/777X. This airplane will feature a fuselage mostly built in CFRP, to reduce the overall weight of the airplane in comparison to the models which preceeded the A350XWB: the A330 (although the airplane will remain available as the A330neo) and the A340 (a quad-engined aircraft which, despite of its great-looking appearance, specially the A340–600, was relatively heavier than Boeing’s 777). This also helps reducing the fuel burn of the aircraft considerably (along with the engine itself), in comparison to the aircraft which precedes the A350XWB aircraft.

The reason why the A350XWB is going quite smoothly is because of various factors: Passenger comfort, a outstanding performance of the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, and because Airbus learnt from the mistakes from its won A380 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

One of the greatest selling points of the A350XWB is the fact that has a larger fuselage than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which enables the airplane to provide 9-abreast seating with a seatwidth ranging from 45.2 cm (17.8 inches), with a 5 cm (2 inch) armrest, and 45.7 cm (18.0 inches) with a 3.8 cm (1.5 inch) armrest. This gives to the A350XWB a exceptional advantage in comfort against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (which despite of allowing 47 cm (18.5 inches) in seat width at 8 abreast, it only allows 44 cm (17.3 inches) at 9 abreast, a thing which many airlines are unfortunately adopting without a proper trade-off in legroom, for example). Plus, the fact that the A350XWB has also a lower cabin altitude (like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner & the Airbus A380 itself), makes it even more comfortable than some of the Boeing 787s out there.

Another good point of the Airbus A350XWB is its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine — which is exclusive on the largest A350–1000XWB (as the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97) — that provides more fuel efficiency & lower costs to operate against its predecessors or the airplanes which will replace (in case of the A350–900XWB: the Boeing 777–200ER or the Airbus A340–300; in case of the A350–1000XWB: the Airbus A340–600, the Boeing 777–300, or a Boeing 777–300ER which has either a 9-abreast economy seating or is geared to medium-to-long-haul flights), even knowing that engine option will always be a obstacle; however, engines are no longer treated as commodity, since they must be designed to be optimised to the airplane. And for the performance which the engine has during the flight tests, the Trent XWB is indeed optimised to the A350XWB!!

A Airbus A350–1000XWB, registered F-WLXV, a aircraft participating in the A350–1000XWB flight test & in the type certification process for the model. Photo: Clemens Vasters/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 2.0)

But the real thing about the Airbus A350XWB is that Airbus has learnt not just with its own mistakes from the A380 superjumbo program, but also from the mistakes done by Boeing with the 787 Dreamliner program.

Unlike the Airbus A380 superjumbo, the A350XWB is a airplane which can enter in most international airports, which support a wingspans up to 65 metres (213 feet). The A350XWB can also be used by a airline for point-to-point routes which need frequency, not capacity. The overall quality of the product, as is known, is quite superior to the A380. There’s no major problems with the A350XWB which can plague the airplane routes (maybe except for the fire risk due to a software bug, but EASA has already issued a Emergency AD to correct that issue). Plus, unlike the A380, the A350XWB is a twinjet, which has inheriting lower maintenance costs in comparison to a quadjet (like the A380 and the Boeing’s 747–8 Intercontinental). And it seems that Airbus learned to make the A350XWB within the limits of the budget, unlike the A380, which costs went absurdely over budget.

Unlike the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, alongside of what was written here, the A350XWB’s electrical system is still a bleed air system, retaining the pneumatic infrastructure of the airplane, which prevents the inherent risks which a no-bleed electrical system may have (like power failures or the need of a larger & heavier generator to provide electricity to the airplane). The reason which Airbus decided to retain the bleed air system for the A350XWB was because Airbus considered a no-bleed electrical system too much of a risk, knowing that was causing too much headaches for Boeing at the time.

Plus, despite the Airbus A350XWB using also Lithium-Ion batteries like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the A350XWB uses 4 batteries, each containing 14 cells storing a combined 45Ah, running at 3.6V (the 787 Dreamliner uses 2 batteries, each containing 8 cells storing a combined 72Ah, running at 3.8V).

The A350XWB also is less dependent on the outsourcing than the 787 Dreamliner. In fact, many of the components are built by Airbus in France, UK, Germany & Spain, with some parts of those components being outsourced: For example, the fuselage panels which are mounted by Airbus in Nantes, Saint Nazaire (both in France) or Hamburg (in Germany) are manufactured at Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas, in the United States. The engine for the A350XWB, the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB is built in Derby, UK. The 787 Dreamliner in comparison, has many of the parts outsourced to Japan (wings, trailing edges, centre wing boxes), South Korea, Canada, Australia, and to many points in Europe (France, UK, Italy & Sweden, for example).

The choice done by Airbus to limiting the outsourcing of the parts used to built the aircraft gives Airbus more control of its supply chain in terms of quality of the parts which are being used to built the A350XWB, which is a good practice if you want to avoid some major safety problems which can compromise the aircraft in the future.

Airbus A350–900XWB from Cathay Pacific (registrered B-LRL), another of the first operators of the type, here at Manchester Airport. Photo Source: Transport Pixels/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 2.0)

Overall, the Airbus A350XWB has been a phenomenal aircraft throughout the flight tests and even in service, making it a glimpse of hope which Airbus needed hold a share of the widebody market (alongside the A330neo) in order to get over from the maelstrom of problems which was the A380 (which still has not booked a order in this year), while giving a convincent alternative to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner (which had also its fair share of problems, including its higher development costs), and giving a proper replacement for Boeing’s 777, and Airbus’s own A330–300 and A340 family, while being more efficient than those in either medium or long-haul missions. The A350XWB prompted also Boeing to advance with its own replacement for the 777: The 777X, which is also a good airplane, despite of being a completely different airplane, touching also the market of the Airbus A380.

That’s what I’ve to say in this article about the A350XWB, which is surprising everyone in its path with its outstanding performance & comfort, making it a hope for Airbus’s widebody sales — Please follow me on Twitter (@O530CarrisPT is my username).