Flying back on course: the inside story of the new Airbus A350 jet

Mon Dec 22, 2014 11:26am EST
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Ten years ago, the boss of Qatar Airways, who takes his first new A350 jet this week, warned Airbus it was flying off course.

Boeing was knocking on his door with a "super-efficient" jet boasting 30 percent fuel savings thanks to a carbon-composite design.

In Toulouse, some Airbus engineers, riding high after overtaking Boeing and suspecting a short-lived marketing stunt, laughed off the future 787 with a “tail like a dolphin”.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker urged Airbus to take the 787 seriously and said its draft response, a quick fix to its A330 with new General Electric engines, was inadequate.

As Qatar Airways planned for rapid regional and long-haul

growth, Al Baker recalls, "there was a requirement for an aircraft that has capacity that is optimal on two fronts: customer comfort and technologically forward-thinking".

That clamor for both cabin comfort and better economics eventually forced Airbus into a fundamental shift in strategy.

But after Al Baker's warning, it took another two years of sales setbacks and doubts at the highest management level before Airbus agreed to build the A350XWB to be delivered on Monday.   Continued...

A general view is seen inside an Airbus A350 XWB during the first delivery of this new passenger jet to Qatar Airways in Toulouse, southwestern France, December 22, 2014. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau