As anticipated, Airbus announced a new A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body) family of aircrafts at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday. The family includes the A350-800 (270 seats in 3-class configuration), A350-900 (314 seats), ultra-long range A350-900 (314 seats), A350-900 freighter and A350-1000 (350 seats). The new aircrafts will feature a new fuselage that can accommodate nine-abreast seating and promise better operating economies than the Boeing B787 and B777 families. Illustrations released by Airbus indicate that the A350 may resemble the B787!
Interestingly, Airbus announced no aircraft for the 200 to 230 seat market. Airbus will discontinue the A310 from mid-2007 and its smallest wide-body is the popular A330-200, which can set 250 seats in 3-class configuration. So does not offer a competition for the B787-800, which has captured 281 of the 404 orders for the B787 thus far. If Airbus expects few other airlines to order aircrafts of this size in the next few years, it can shrink the A350-800 at a later date to cater to this market whenever demand arises.
Clearly, the new fuselage and cockpit sections are a break from the Airbus tradition of sub-system commonality. Towards 2010 or so, I expect Airbus to announce discontinuation of its A330 and A340 families in favor of the A350 family that will directly compete against Boeing’s B787 and B777 families. The A350 is an enhanced replacement for the twin-engine A330 and the four-engine twin-aisle market seems to have dried-up as poor sales of the A340 in the last two years have indicated.