Airbus balks at stretching A350 amid new plane headaches

By Andrea Rothman

Airbus Group, struggling to deliver its latest aircraft models, is balking at taking on a new challenge with a stretched version of the A350 wide-body to counter Boeing in the market for the biggest twin-aisle planes.

Developing a variant even bigger than the 366-seat A350-1000 could cost billions of euros and end up cannibalising other Airbus models, the planemaker's executives said at a briefing in Hamburg.

The market for this size of aircraft is likely to focus on replacements for Boeing's 777-300ER rather than fresh demand, calling into question the business case for such an investment.

"We are convinced that we can do the job, but we are not convinced that we should launch" a stretched A350-1000, said Fabrice Bregier, head of Airbus's passenger-plane division. "But we are looking at the market."

Airbus is juggling a number of issues with its newest planes.

The current versions of the twin-aisle A350 is facing bottlenecks as suppliers including Zodiac Aerospace struggle to meet deadlines to supply seats and galleys.

An acceleration in A320neo deliveries is on hold until the second half as engine maker Pratt & Whitney works to fix a turbine glitch, leaving completed single-aisle planes piling up in Hamburg and Toulouse, France. Meanwhile, Airbus is trimming manufacturing costs for the A380 superjumbo amid slow sales.

Airbus is also dealing with a slow pace of orders after big contracts signed in the last few years mean that airline demand has largely been sapped for the time being, Bregier said. The manufacturer expects to win contracts for about 650 planes this year, in line with its 2016 delivery target.

Amid the headaches, Airbus lashed out at delinquent suppliers, with Bregier saying he will "get rid" of partners that don't meet their obligations.

Last weekend, the company delivered an A350 to Cathay Pacific Airways after waiting months for seats from Zodiac. Supply of galleys and other cabin equipment has also been an issue, leading Airbus to put in extra work stations to speed up final assembly.

"I want toilets with doors that close," Bregier told journalists. "It's like getting a new car but you have something missing that doesn't allow you to drive it. This is frustrating."

- Bloomberg.

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