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First look: Qatar Airways A350 XWB

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Published: 23/12/2014 - Filed under: News »

Qatar Airways took delivery of the first of its new A350 aircraft from Airbus this week (see news, December 22).

The launch customer, the carrier has orders for 80 of the aircraft.

After a ceremony at Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse, press and various suppliers were treated to a 45-minute local flight.

Qatar Airways A350 and A380 deliveries

Qatar Airways' A350 and an A380 leave Toulouse for Doha 

Qatar Airways A350XWB delivery

Boarding the aircraft took place via two air bridges direct from the delivery centre.

I've been on an A350 previously in Helsinki, when Finnair (the first European customer) unveiled the seating products it intends to have on-board (see news, August 13). But it was one of the "proving" aircraft that Airbus was touring around the world, and had generic seating on board.

This was the first chance to see what airlines can make of the interior of the aircraft.

The A350 XWB offers efficiencies for the airlines ordering it. According to Airbus, these are:

  • A 25 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency and a 25 per cent lower seat-mile cost compared to current aluminium long-range competitors, such as the B777. The A350 XWB is powered by new fuel-efficient and quiet Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines
  • For every seat offered, the A350 XWB — or A350-900 — burns 9 per cent less fuel than the 787-9
  • This fuel-burn advantage, combined with lower maintenance costs, gives the A350-900 a 10 per cent lower cash operating cost per seat than the 787-9
  • With up to 35 more seats than the 787, the A350 XWB offers a potential revenue advantage of 10 per cent or more.
To learn more about the aircraft, click here to view Airbus' informative website, which has some stunning visuals.
 

Qatar Airways A350XWB delivery


Press conference: Qatar Airways and Airbus unveil the Gulf carrier's new A350 XWB


As can be seen from the brief notes above, Airbus uses the B777 as a comparison for efficiencies (not the B787) but is keen to compare the A350 with the B787 when it comes to the width of the fuselage (hence the Extra Wide Body XWB designation).


It does this because the extra width of the aircraft potentially translates into extra seat width and therefore comfort in the nine-across economy seating on the aircraft.

Qatar Airways is now flying both types of aircraft.

First impressions on boarding its A350 XWB are of the headroom — there are no central overhead lockers in business class, and as with the B787 there is a central entrance area where the ceiling seems to soar through the use of interior design and clever lighting, creating a feeling of space rather than the familiar constriction of entering a metal tube.

 Qatar Airways A350XWB

Not the best of photos, but note the dome-like entrance and the head height

Qatar Airways A350XWB windows blind

"Panoramic" window

Like the B787 Dreamliner, the A350 has wider windows than the previous generation of aircraft, including the A330 and A380.

Airbus calls them "panoramic", which is pushing it a little, but they are undoubtedly larger than those on most other aircraft and certainly impressed after that morning's flight to Toulouse on a Fokker 50.

Are they larger/wider than the B787? Hard to judge, but I will be following up with both Boeing and Airbus to try and find the winner on that one.

As on the B787, there is a button in business class allowing window blinds to be operated.

In-flight Entertainment

As you'd expect from this new-generation aircraft, high-bandwidth fibre optics are fitted and the there is In-flight Entertainment (IFE) system is in high-definition. In economy, the content is displayed on 12-inch screens.

It was possible to watch the entire flight from the tailfin camera, which was useful as I was in a middle seat and so unable to look out of a window.

Qatar Airways offers its On Air wifi and telephone service on the A350. This flight was too short in duration to test this out, but having used it on the carrier's B787, it works well.

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class IFE

IFE screen: View from the tailfin camera

Overhead lockers

A welcome addition are the large overhead lockers, allowing bags to be stored lengthwise.

Note that if you are in the centre seats in business class, you will be using the lockers over the window seats – this isn't a problem since this business class is very spacious at 1-2-1.

Lighting

The "mood" lighting of recent aircraft deliveries is continued with the A350 XWB, with full LED lighting apparently allowing a palette of 16.7 million possible colours for "customised ambiances", surely enough to keep even the most jaded business traveller entertained for the duration of the flight.

Air

Airbus says that "the total cabin air is renewed every two to three minutes in a draft-free environment at the optimum temperature".

This was impossible to judge on such a short flight, as was the lower cabin pressure altitude contributing "to the feeling of well-being, even on the longest-range trips", although having flown some extremely long flights on the B787 I'm inclined to believe this. In general, I think the planes do make a difference.

They are also quieter, although on this short flight involving a climb and descent, several people felt the A380 was noticeably quieter. I'm not so sure. I chatted with my neighbour when we were cruising and found the flight very quiet, certainly more so than, say, a B777.

Seating

Qatar has fitted seats similar to those on the B787 (they may be identical – I'm waiting for measurements). The seat can be positioned in a number of different ways.

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class seat controls

Business class: Seat controls

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class

Spacious: The seat offers easy access to the aisle

Qatar Airways A350XWB business class inseat power

Business class inseat power (the wire is from my phone which was plugged into the USB)

As can be seen, they are extremely spacious, have easy access to the aisle, and with the central area splitting the one cabin into two sets of seating, you really do feel that the 1-2-1 configuration makes this one of the most spacious business class seats available.

The flight was too short to look at economy class in details, although I was lucky to board before most other passengers and so could take some photos.

As mentioned, Airbus is very proud of the fact that the width of the fuselage of the A350 is five-inches wider than the B787 Dreamliner, which allows for 18-inch-wide seats at nine-abreast as standard in economy.

The seat pitch (legroom) is the same as on the B787, but the width and the fact that these are new generation seats, with all the ergonomic improvements that have occured in seat manufacturing and cushions, mean they are more comfortable than economy seating on older aircraft. To read more about this, click here.

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

The economy class cabin

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

Bulkhead seats at the front of the cabin (16A and 16C)

Qatar Airways A350XWB economy class

Since Qatar Airways has both the A350 and the B787, Airbus representatives were perhaps less bullish on the extra width than they have been previously, not wanting to imply that economy passengers on Qatar's B787 aircraft would be disadvantaged in terms of room when compared with its economy passengers on the A350.

The flight was over all too soon (not something I've ever written before) and we were off the aircraft and grabbing hold of a few soundbites from Airbus and Qatar Airways management.

The aircraft will be rostered on the airline's Doha to Frankfurt route (see news, October 20), but Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker mentioned that it will first spend a few days at London Heathrow in January for some noise testing — so you may see it parked in a corner somewhere at the airport.

VERDICT

A combination of high oil prices pushing carriers to demand more efficient aircraft from the manufacturers and the massive expansion of the Gulf carriers has made the past few years extremely exciting for new aircraft deliveries.

And with B787s, A380s and A350s in its fleet, Qatar Airways has invested billions in this process. For anyone who hasn't yet flown the carrier, these new aircraft provide a strong argument for trying a flight via Doha.

qatarairways.com

Tom Otley

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