On 20 February, Qatar Airways took delivery of the first production Airbus A350-1000.
Qatar Airways, in its own words, has ‘aggressive expansion plans’ both in terms of its international network and the size of its fleet.
As a result, it has become a major player in the industry in just 20 years, helped considerably by its group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, who is well known for his hands-on approach, attention to detail, and no holds barred attitude if things do not go according to plan – even major OEMs have become accustomed to stinging put-downs when there are delays and problems.
New technology and passenger comfort are two of the main drivers for the airline and recent years have seen the introduction of the Boeing 787 (2012), Airbus A380 (2014), A350-900 (2014) and the Qsuite (2017), the latter being described by Al Baker as ‘the ultimate in luxury for business class passengers’.
Designed by PriestmanGoode and produced by Zodiac Aerospace UK, it was first fitted to the Boeing 777. It is now on nine aircraft, plus five A350-900s, but these have all been retrofitted. It has also suffered some production delays and in-service reliability problems, which had a knock-on effect by delaying delivery of the A350-1000 from December, although Airbus completed the aircraft and the Qsuite installation on time.
Surprisingly, Al Baker seemed relaxed about this, perhaps not wishing to take away from Fabrice Brégier’s last day as Airbus chief executive officer – he said seeing the Airbus A350-1000 through from inception to being in service were the greatest moments of his time with the company and thanked the entire team for their efforts.
As the Qsuite was fitted to the Airbus A350-1000 before delivery, this aircraft could be said to be the flagship of the fleet, bringing together all of the incremental cabin improvements from previous types. In fact, it has also taken advantage of improvements to the basic aircraft that have been introduced by Airbus, either from the -1000 development programme or from -900 modifications introduced over the production run.
These include an increased MTOW of 250 tonnes and a 1 per cent fuel burn improvement from aerodynamic improvements (revised wing twist and fairings). The MTOW increase is partly due to weight reductions in the structure (such as composite replacing titanium for door surrounds).
The cabin has also changed, François Caudron, senior vice president, head of marketing at Airbus, told Aircraft Cabin Management. At the rear, the galley layout has been modified, with reduced space and the addition of two lavatories.
This has allowed six extra seats to be installed. A revised six-trolley galley at Door 2 adds another three seats. Slimline baggage bins have now been installed above the last six rows of Economy, where the overhead crew rest compartment intrudes into the cabin space.
The biggest difference between the two variants of the aircraft is that the A350-1000 has a 7m longer fuselage. This requires a lengthened wing trailing-edge, new six-wheel main landing gear and more powerful Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines (97,000lb thrust instead of 84,000lb).
For Qatar Airways, the stretch means 44 extra seats, taking capacity to 281 seats. Business Class increases from 36 to 46 seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration. The middle suites are able to convert to six double beds (all beds are 80in) and there six quad suites.
A 22in screen is fitted for the Thales TopSeries AVANT IFE system, with connectivity by OnAir. Economy Class grows from 247 to 281 seats, each 18in wide in a 3-3-3 configuration, up to 32in pitch. Each individual seat will feature an 11.6in IFE screen, and extra space at shoulder level for passengers in window seats, thanks to the near-vertical sidewall panels.
Qatar Airways was a launch customer for the original A350-900, receiving the first of 39 aircraft in December 2014, and for the larger Airbus A350-1000 variant, for which it has 37 orders. Speaking at the delivery, Akbar Al Baker said a further five -1000s will arrive this year, with the remainder to be delivered within five years, so there is a steep ramp-up.
He added that there might be a switch to more of the -1000 but, despite operating from Doha to Auckland, the longest scheduled service in the world at 16 hours 35 minutes, he said the airline has no interest in the Ultra Long Range version or flights of 20 hours or more.
He also commented that three outstanding options for the A380 are unlikely to be taken up after the tenth firm order aircraft is delivered in April 2018.
In December 2017, the airline reconfirmed and upsized an order from 50 A320neo to 50 of the larger A321neo ACF (Airbus Cabin Flex configuration). These will be delivered from the second half of 2019 with CFM LEAP-1A engines (the airline refused delivery of earlier A320neos because of problems with the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM engine). An additional 30 options are held.
The day before the Airbus A350-1000 delivery, he was in Milan to announce plans for Air Italy, formerly Meridiana. In September 2017, Qatar Airways acquired 49 per cent of AQA Holding, the new parent company of Air Italy, while the previous sole shareholder, Alisarda, kept 51 per cent.
Air Italy aims to have approximately 50 aircraft by 2022, all of which are to be leased from Qatar Airways at industry rates – the leasing arm is a revenue stream, he says, and additional aircraft may well be purchased.
First up are 20 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft to be delivered over the next three years from April 2018. An LoI was signed in 2016 to take them (plus 40 options) in the middle of the engine controversy and was seen as a rebuff to Airbus. Interestingly, they still do not show on the Boeing order book.
Three will be delivered this year plus five Airbus A330-200s. The latter will be replaced as 30 Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners are transferred from May 2019.
Al Baker said the QSuite cannot be fitted to the 787 as the fuselage cross-section is too small, and so a brand new product with total privacy will be developed, which will be installed on the Air Italy aircraft as well as a further 30 787-9s currently on order for Qatar, although there will be no rear-facing seats.
Other Boeing orders include 50 777-9X and 10 777-8X 9 (plus 40 options). He also noted that, while Qatar Airways does not have an interest in the Bombardier C Series, there is a possibility that it might be suitable for an investment partner. Finally, he is interested in supersonic aircraft but needs to see a serious commitment by an engine manufacturer.
For more information about other Airbus A350-1000 deliveries, click here.