Weekend delivery of first A350 to Qatar Airways abruptly delayed (updated)

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Updated at 2:30pm to include comments from Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker.

Mystery surrounds the last-minute postponement of the long-awaited handover to Qatar Airways of Airbus’s first A350XWB passenger jet, which was due to take place on Saturday.

Qatar Airways was to be the launch customer for the new wide-bodied, long-range aircraft and a ceremonial transfer had been planned to take place at Airbus’s base in Toulouse, France this Saturday. The plane was then due to fly to Qatar, with events scheduled at Hamad International Airport in Doha on Monday.

However, the national carrier issued a statement yesterday saying the handover had been delayed, without giving any reason for the sudden change of plans.

In a midday press conference to announce an unrelated employee training initiative, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker offered not insight into the reasons for the delay, but suggested the A350 would make its maiden commercial flight between Doha and Frankfurt as scheduled next month:

Yes, we have a small issue that we are trying to solve with Airbus. This issue should be resolved very soon and then we will be taking the delivery of our airplanes imminently.

The Airbus A350 will be the backbone of Qatar Airways’ fleet … (and) the aircraft is already scheduled to do the first commercial flight on Jan. 15.

Airbus confirmed the news, but also neglected to provide a reason, saying only: “We are working very closely with Qatar Airways to meet our common goal to deliver their first A350XWB very soon.”

The jet was still standing on the flight line in Toulouse, The Daily Telegraph reports Airbus as saying last night.

Industry sources suggested that the delay may be a negotiating tactic by Qatar Airways to secure a better deal, the newspaper added.

Delays

Built primarily from carbon fiber, the A350 is touted by Airbus to be 25 percent more fuel efficient than its current long-range competitor, the 254-seater Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The planes can also accommodate more passengers than the Dreamliner. The A350-900s ordered by Qatar Airways contain 315 seats, while the -1000 model can hold 369 passengers.

The cabins are expected to be roomier, with 18-inch wide seats in economy, extra headroom, wider panoramic windows and larger overhead storage spaces.

Qatar Airways had ordered 80 of the A350 aircraft – 43 of the -900 model and a further 37 of the larger -1000 type. The latter model is not due to enter service until 2017.

While the announcement came as a surprise to some, Qatar Airways has previously refused to accept aircraft at the last minute.

Handover of Qatar Airways’ first super-jumbo A380 was delayed by nearly four months this year after the airline’s CEO Akbar Al Baker said there were issues over the cabin interior.

Until yesterday’s statement, progress on the A350 had appeared smooth, and the arrival of the aircraft was hotly anticipated.

Airbus A350 1

In August this year, Qatar Airways proudly showed off the first of the newly-liveried jet, releasing photos of one in their hangar in Toulouse, which piqued the interest of aviation enthusiasts and experts.

And in October, Airbus announced that the first A350-900 for Qatar Airways had successfully made its maiden flight, with delivery for the first of the aircraft still on schedule by the end of the year.

However, at the time the CEO of Airbus did reportedly called the national carrier a “demanding” customer.

Referencing the handover of the A350, Fabrice Bregier was quoted by Reuters as having said:

“We know it will be difficult to have it accepted because they are very demanding on quality, but it’s a good start. We believe at least one aircraft will be delivered this year, but the customer has the final say.”

Al Baker previously told reporters that after the first A350 delivery, the airline expects to receive nine aircraft by next year, followed by one a month in 2016 and two each month in 2017.

Each A350-900 is estimated to cost around $277.7 million.

Meanwhile, Airbus issued a profits warning for 2016 yesterday and saw its share price drop by 10.4 percent in afternoon trading, Reuters reported.

The airline said it would have to cut production of the A330 in 2016 to unspecified levels after it struggled to find buyers.

And it is also still trying to find at least one new buyer for its A380 aircraft before year-end, raising the possibility of discontinuing the aircraft as soon as 2018.

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