Ready for TAKE-OFF
Airbus launches the new A350
In December, Qatar Airways became the launch customer of Airbus’newest aircraft, the A350 XWB. The twinengine aircraft has been built by Airbus as a competitor to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. So far, the A350 comes in three sizes: the A350-800, which will carry 276 passengers; the A350-900, accommodating 315 passengers; and the A350-1000, seating 369. It is the A350-900 that is being manufactured first; this is the aircraft that, with much fanfare, Qatar Airways put into commercial service last month.
In the run up to the launch, Airbus unveiled its Customer Definition Centre in Hamburg. This new facility is the place where potential customers are persuaded that this is the aircraft for them, and where they will decide on the exact configuration.
Even before the center officially opened in April last year, 14 customers had already been through the process, choosing everything from the fabric and color schemes of their planes to the seating and galley options.
The process is important for a number of reasons. First, without airlines being persuaded to buy new aircraft, we would never be able to fly on them. It doesn’t matter how improved or revolutionary an aircraft is, if the carriers aren’t convinced, the only place we’re going to see them is in computer-generated pictures, or perhaps in a corner of a museum reserved for glorious failures and futuristic what ifs.
As Chris Emerson, Airbus’s senior vice-president for marketing, puts it:“The A350 has been designed and built with the marketplace in mind.”Unlike in the days of Concorde, today manufacturers respond to the requirements of airlines.
“The process is about much more than how many seats fit on these aircraft,” Emerson says.“It’s also who is sitting in these seats – are they on business or leisure trips? How price sensitive are they? Are they flying on trunk routes or newly established routes?”
The A350 has to allow for all of these possibilities, hence the degree to which it can be customized by the airlines. In one of the Airbus center’s rooms is a mock-up of the aircraft interior, where various seating configurations can be tried out.
To keep things as simple as possible, Airbus has developed a catalog approach to the options, compiling a one-stop-shop list of approved suppliers of seats, fabrics and in-flight entertainment from which the courting airlines can choose.
Responding to airlines’demands has meant doubling the size of the catalog and the number of suppliers, says Emerson, a process likely to continue as carriers seek to assert their own stamp of individuality.
How revolutionary is the A350? There is little doubt it is“new generation”when it
‘The A350 has been designed and built with the marketplace in mind’