Ready for TAKE-OFF

Air­bus launches the new A350

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Ot­ley

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’

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