According to reports from the Chicago Tribune (and Boeing’s head office is in Chicago so you figure they have pretty good sources), British Airways is creeping ever closer to placing an order with Airbus for their new wide-bodied A350; the order is said to be for 20 of the largest model in the range, the A350-1000 which has a list price of some US$330 million.
We had already reported on this story which was first leaked by the Wall St Journal although, within a day, British Airways had pretty much stolen everyone’s thunder (click here for article) by confirming an option for a further 18 787 Dreamliners, that being in addition to the 24 it has already ordered, the first of which should be arriving later this year. Aside from the timing, one of the more curious aspects of this order was the statement from parent company IAG that the 787 was meant as a replacement for British Airways’ 747. Although the statement made no mention of which model the new order was for (the original order was a for a combination of the 8 & 9 series), we must assume that it is for the future 10 series as the 8 & 9 series aren’t even close to being large enough to match the seating capacity of a 4 cabin 747.
Whether Boeing can trump the A350 deal at the last moment will probably depend on 3 key issues: (1) Whether it can bring forward its plans for the new 777-x and convince British Airways of the merits of a re-modelled aircraft (which British Airways already has over 50 of) against the brand new A350, (2) Whether, with its current problems with the 787, it can convince British Airways that the new 777-x will be ready in time (and some of the airline’s older 747 aircraft really do need to be retired sooner rather than later) and (3) Whether the financials stack up.
One advantage that the new 777-x will have over the A350-1000 is capacity, with the former holding some 400 passengers compared to the latter’s 350 or so; that would certainly represent a better like-for-like replacement of the 747. British Airways might therefore place an order now for the A350 and then follow that up at a later date with an order for the 777-x; alternatively, it might order the A350 and then add to its current order for 12 A380′s. The final question mark revolves around Iberia, British Airways sister airline within IAG. So far, talk of the order for the A350 has come from IAG rather than British Airways and, although somewhat unlikely, it could be that part of any order for the A350 would be for Iberia which already operates an all Airbus long-haul fleet and whose A340 models desperately need replacing.
If IAG / British Airways does order the A350, expect to hear the champagne corks popping in Derby as Rolls Royce are the sole suppliers of engines to the A350; as they are already supplying engines to British Airways new fleet of A380′s and 787 Dreamliners, it would be a win-win-win for the UK engine manufacturer.