Qatar Airways may place additional orders for the new Airbus A350-1000, but has no interest in the ultra-long range A350-900ULR variant.
Airbus got a boost for its largest twin-engined jet on Tuesday when Qatar Airways said it was considering upgrading some of its A350 orders to the largest model as it took delivery of the first such plane.
The A350-1000 is designed to seat 366 people and competes head-to-head with Boeing's profitable 777 series. The first A350-1000 was handed over to the Gulf carrier on Tuesday, joining the smaller A350-900, which has been in service for three years.
Airbus says the lightweight A350-1000 is 25 percent more efficient than the most popular current version of the 777, the 777-300ER.
Qatar Airways, which has ordered both the A350-1000 and the 777X, indicated it was moving in the opposite direction and said it could shift more of its A350-900 orders to the largest model.
"There is a possibility that we could convert some of the 900s to the 1000," Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said, although he added that the airline is not interested in an ultra-long-haul version of the A350-900 being floated by Airbus for carriers like Qantas.
Qatar is the top A350 customer with 76 on order, including 37 A350-1000s, which have a list price of US$367 million.
It recently cancelled four A350-900 orders following delays, but subsequently re-committed to the new European jet family.
The prospect of upgrades will come as a relief to Airbus, which is gambling on the A350-1000 to contain any market pressure from the 777 as Boeing develops its new model.
Airbus cool on 'A350-2000'
Last summer, the European planemaker shelved tentative plans for an even bigger A350 that would compete more directly with Boeing's planned 777X.
Fabrice Bregier, speaking on his last day as Airbus chief operating officer, said on Tuesday studies had shown the idea worked in principle, but that Airbus would focus instead on pushing the A350-1000.
"It's now time to start to be more aggressive and to explain to our customers, or Boeing's customers, that this aircraft will be a better choice than a 777-9X," Bregier said.
Boeing insists that its jet will be the world's most efficient aircraft in its category, thanks to new wings.
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