Friday, October 20, 2017

The Airbus A350 Is Not The Boeing 787 -- But Delta Loves It

(Delta Airlines)

Let’s just say upfront that the Airbus A350 does not evoke any of the three turns of phrase so commonly applied to the Boeing 787.

It is not a “Dreamliner,” the brand name Boeing so successfully coined. It is not a “game changer,” the description used to vast excess to describe the airplane that opened once unthinkable routes like San Francisco-Chengdu and London-Austin. It is not a “moonshot,” the word used, almost derisively, by the former Boeing CEO who famously said that today’s “more-for-less world will not let you pursue moonshots.”

Rather, the A350 is just a very good next-generation aircraft. Certainly, Delta thinks so. Delta has labeled the A350 its flagship aircraft, moving the designation from the Boeing 747, which it is retiring this year.

The A350 will initially be based in Detroit, entering service with an Oct. 30th flight to Tokyo Narita. Service to Seoul will be added in November, with Beijing in January, Shanghai in April and Amsterdam in the spring. All were once Boeing 747 flights for Delta.

At a media event in Atlanta on Wednesday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told reporters that three years ago, Delta considered ordering the 787. “I love the airplane,” Bastian said, but “Boeing couldn’t deliver on the timeline we were looking at” and “the price point was better” for the A350.

Delta rolled out the A350-900 for a two-hour flight that flew north along the Appalachian Mountains into West Virginia and Kentucky before turning south toward Atlanta. A Federal Aviation Administration inspector flew in the cockpit with the pilots.

First Officer Laura Edwards, who formerly flew the Boeing 767, said she was drawn to the A350 due to “the advanced technology on the flight deck and [in] the controls. The different technology makes life easier.”

Also aboard the flight, Robbie Schaefer, Delta manager of onboard products, said the carrier has rolled out new cabin products Delta One and Delta Premium Select on the A350. Next year, it will modify its 18 Boeing 777 interiors to include some or all of them.

The A350 has 306 seats including 32 Delta One suites, which feature private compartments with doors, lie flat seating and ample room: 48 Delta Premium Select seats with up to 38 inches of pitch and seat width of 18.5 inches, and 226 coach seats with 31 to 32 inches of pitch.

Aerospace consultant Scott Hamilton said the A350-900 offers more range than the 787-10, the latest Dreamliner version. “The A350-900 is longer range, somewhat heavier and carries somewhat fewer passengers than the 787-10,” he said.

“Because the 787-10 has more passengers, its [cost per available seat mile] is a couple of percentage points lower over a 5,000-mile trip,” Hamilton said. It is the 787-9, operated by United, that opened historic new routes led by San Francisco-Chengdu, the first commercial flight from the U.S. mainline to interior China, and that now operates on three of the world’s 10 longest flights, led by number three Los Angeles-Singapore, which is 8,700 miles.

Still, United intends to follow Delta into the A350 business. The carrier said last month that it will take delivery of 45 Airbus A350-900 aircraft starting in 2022.

(Ted Reed - Forbes)

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