Qatar Airways says no delay to first A350 commercial flight

Qatar Airways says no delay to first A350 commercial flight

DOHA - Qatar Airways said Thursday that the first commercial flight of the Airbus A350-900 would go ahead as scheduled next month despite a delay to delivery of the next-generation plane.

Chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the carrier had a "small issue" that it was trying to resolve with the European plane manufacturer.

"This issue should be resolved very soon and we will be taking the delivery of our planes imminently," he told reporters in Doha.

"The aircraft is already scheduled to do the first commercial flight on the 15th of January and this will be to Frankfurt," Baker added.

He hinted that the first A350 would be delivered by December 15, saying the airline would use it for training for its cabin crew and pilots for 30 days before the first commercial flight.

Crew training on new aircraft usually lasts for two to three weeks but can take longer in the case of planes new to the market.

"The Airbus 350 will be the backbone of the Qatar Airways fleet," Baker said.

The A350 had been due to be delivered Saturday at a ceremony in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.

But on Wednesday the airline postponed the delivery of the first A350-900, which is aimed at eroding Boeing's dominance of the lucrative long-haul market.

Heathrow trials

The carrier has ordered 80 of the aircraft, whose delivery had already been pushed back by about a year.

The aircraft will also be flown to London's Heathrow airport for a week of trials to measure the sound emission "to prove to the world, and especially to the British community, how quiet this airplane is," Baker said.

The Gulf carrier is one of Airbus's biggest clients, albeit a very demanding one.

The delivery of a new aircraft is always an extremely delicate task for manufacturers as buyers' technical teams scrutinise every detail of the cabin, retaining the right to refuse delivery at any moment.

Airlines are in a major push to modernise their fleets to reap the fuel savings that the latest generation of engines offer, especially as competition in the sector is fierce and fuel is one of the biggest costs.

The A350, whose wings and fuselage are made of carbon fibre, will save up to 25 per cent in fuel consumption.

The plane was designed to help the European aerospace giant catch up with its American rival Boeing.

Airbus invested 10-12 billion euros (S$15-S17.5 billion) in its strategy to position the A350 between Boeing's popular 777 and its 787 Dreamliner, hoping to eat away at both planes' markets.

Airbus chief executive Fabius Bregier has estimated 2,500 A350s could be sold eventually.

In August, Airbus had announced that the plane had completed its "route proving", around-the-world in 20 days trip aimed at testing the aircraft's readiness for airline operations, during which it flew 180 hours and stopped off at 14 airports.

The plane, with Trent XWB Rolls-Royce engines, can carry 315 passengers over a distance of 14,500 kilometres (9,000 miles), and to date 39 customers worldwide have ordered it.

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