Could A Miniature Airbus A350 Compete With The Boeing NMA?

Previously on Simple Flying, we discussed how the A350 could be stretched (into an A350-2000 400 passenger variant) to compete with the Boeing 777-9. But now experts predict that Airbus might shrink the A350 instead, in a bid to beat the Boeing 797.

And it’s already been designed; the A350-800.

Could A Miniature Airbus A350 Compete With The Boeing NMA?
Airbus A350-1000. Could a shorter one beat The Boeing 797? Photo: Wikimedia

What is the Airbus A350-800?

The Airbus A350-800 was the smallest A350 developed next to the -900 and -1000. It would carry 276 passengers in a three-class configuration, to a range of 8,245 nmi.

It would have twin aisles, use the same composite materials as the rest of the A350 range and likely have the same fuel efficiency as the Boeing 787.

The aircraft was initially designed to replace the A330-200.

Originally Airbus managed to gather 182 orders for the A350-800, but when they announced the Airbus A330neo-800 they decided to convert these orders to the A330neo or upgrade to the slightly larger (and more economical) A350-900.

I believe all of our customers will either convert to the A350-900 or the A330neo”, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier said to Aviation Week in 2014. “The A330neo is the more efficient solution (compared to the A350-800).”

A330-800 take off
Kuwait Airways recently ordered eight A330-800neos; to be delivered this year. Photo: Airbus Press Release, 2018.

How would it compare to the 797?

As we have mentioned in the numerous Boeing 797 articles, there are a few key gaps that the Boeing 797 is set to fill.

  • An aircraft that can carry 220-280 passengers in the middle of the market (Boeing does not have an aircraft that fills this gap at the moment).
  • Designed for routes that are short haul but dense, such as New York to Chicago or London to Paris. The aircraft would be small and efficient like the Boeing 737 but with twin aisles, allowing for faster boarding and disembarkation.
  • It would have a range of around 5,000 nmi.

The shortened A350-800 would be placed squarely next to the 797 in terms of passenger numbers but would blow the 797 out of the water with its long-haul reach of 8,200 nmi.

Naturally, there is one metric where the Boeing 797 might crush the A350: cost to airlines. The A350 family all cost over $300 million USD each, and Boeing is planning on pricing the 797 at around $100 million a unit (some experts say $75 million, but that seems far too optimistic). Thus, if an airline can buy three 797s for the cost of one A350-800…Boeing might still come out on top.

Airbus A350
The Airbus A350 sells for around $300 million USD up. Photo: Wikimedia

It is hard to say too much more as the Boeing 797 exists even less than the Airbus A350-800 (which in essence is just some planes in a backroom somewhere).

Would it be built again?

In November last year, a rumor from Airbus suggested that they were considering an A350neo range.

The new engine option, of course, would be the new Rolls Royce Ultrafan. This engine would allow the A350neo family to achieve fuel efficiency above and beyond the Boeing 787 or possibly the 797 as well. Airbus hopes to have this NEO flying by 2025.

As part of this design, Airbus might revisit the -800 series and see if they can make it work for the modern (2025) market. But if Airbus has struggled to make the A330neo-800 work, is there any chance for them to reintroduce the A350-800? We are not so confident.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!