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Airbus to step up A350 deliveries to Qatar Airways.

Dubai: Airbus indicated it will bring forward deliveries of its newest A350 model to first customer Qatar Airways while playing down prospects for an early commitment to upgrading its flagship A380 superjumbo. A350 slots available after Dubai-based Emirates scrapped an order last year leave scope for accelerating Qatar Air handovers "to a limited extent," Fabrice Bregier, who heads Airbus's planemaking unit, said in an interview, while Qatar's chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said he aims to expedite deliveries. Qatar Airways received the first A350 on Monday at a ceremony delayed from last week by what Al Baker said were issues with the quality of buyer-furnished equipment, or customisation specified by the airline. Bregier said the jet offers 25 per cent lower fuel burn than Boeing's 777, while adding that there are no plans to add a bigger version and deemphasising prospects for an upgrade of the flagship A380 superjumbo. "We think we don't need another stretch of the A350 family; I don't say it will never happen but this is clearly not in our plans," he told Bloomberg Television from Airbus's base in Toulouse, France. "We are not at all in a hurry to look for upgrades of the A380. This is not the yearly priority." Airbus is instead determined to persuade more airlines to buy the existing version of the A380, with a a Neo variant sporting new engines likely only "later on" and a stretch model adding more seats possible in the 'very long term'. Production challenge Bregier said his chief challenge is to ramp up production of the A350 as fast as possible, with no new delivery slots available before 2021. A build rate of three planes a month will rise to 10 by early 2018, with Airbus offering the existing A330 to clients in regions such as China to bridge the gap. At Qatar Air, Al Baker said the rollout plan for 80 A350s on order will see the twin-engine plane replace older A330s on existing routes while also opening up new destinations. "We want our aircraft as soon as possible because we have a fleet replacement program," he said in a Bloomberg TV interview. "If I can get it yesterday, I would be delighted." The delay in the handover -- which the manufacturer said today had still met its target of falling within 2014 -- "had nothing to do with Airbus," Al Baker said, relating only to a "small issue" that's now been resolved. The glitch follows a similar holdup in Qatar taking receipt of its first A380. Route rollout The A350 is scheduled to operate its first route to Frankfurt and will also be deployed to destinations on the U.S. east coast and to Japan and other markets in Asia, as well as to Russia, Al Baker said, adding that it will become the "backbone" of the fleet, together with the older 777. The chief executive officer concurred that a stretch version isn't necessary, with the largest A350-1000 an 'absolute perfect size'. Qatar Airways would be interested in a Neo upgrade of the A380 if it became available, he said. Still, even the conversion of three order options that the carrier has in hand won't come before the double-decker has been in operation with its fleet for at least a year, he said. Qatar has 10 firm orders thus far, with four of those planes already in the fleet. Rolls-Royce, the only turbine supplier on the A350 and one of two on the A380, said in Toulouse that options for upgrading the superjumbo span engine enhancements, a basic re-engining, or the design of a wholly new powerplant. "It would depend on the business case," Tony Wood, head of the UK company's aerospace arm, said at in an interview on the fringes of the A350 ceremony. The timescale and cost would vary in each case, he said, adding that Rolls is undertaking enhancement research all the time on various engines. Bregier said that whether Rolls, General Electric or Pratt & Whitney are undertaking work doesn't mean that a particular offering will necessarily be brought to market.

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Publication:Times of Oman (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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