The Airbus A350 Regional – The Plane Type That Never Was

In 2013, Airbus touted a competitor to the newly-released Boeing 787-10: the A350 Regional. The aircraft would be structurally identical to the A350-900 but feature a lower maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) and engine thrust. However, this aircraft never made it to any airlines.

Airbus A350
Airbus planned to reconfigure the A350-900 for exclusive regional options. Photo: Airbus

Challenging the 787-10

Boeing rolled out its largest Dreamliner variant, the 787-10, at the Paris Air Show in June 2013. The aircraft was aimed at regional routes, offering more seats but a lower range for high-traffic destinations. The plane’s seating capacity challenged the A350-900s, prompting Airbus to respond with its own plane type.

In July 2013, Airbus began discussing the A350 Regional, which was essentially a reconfigured A350-900. The plane would have de-rated Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines with a thrust of around 75,000lb (instead of the standard 84,000lb thrust). Airbus would also allow airlines to convert the plane to a standard A350-900 by increasing the thrust and MTOW by paying a fee, according to a statement in FlightGlobal.

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Boeing 787-10
The Boeing 787-10 offered a seating capacity similar to the A350. Photo: Boeing

The maximum takeoff weight would be reduced from 268t to 250t, with the plane offering up to 360 seats in a single-class configuration and lesser range. Overall, aircraft offered better fuel efficiency and required fewer maintenance cycles, both important factors for a heavily operated regional aircraft.

Worthy opponent

Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways both went on to order the A350 Regional, with the former being the launch customer. Airbus was confident in the aircraft’s success against the 787-10, with COO John Leahy telling FlightGlobal,

“I de-rate the weight of the aircraft and engine and increase the number of cycles for regional flying and I offer an A350-900 regional that clobbers the 787-10…It’ll be offered formally later this year, but we’re offering it to individual airlines right now. Some of them have even bought it, but they’ve kept it quiet for a while because they want to see exactly how we position it.”

Singapore Airlines A350
Singapore Airlines agreed to be the launch customer of the A350 Regional. Photo: Airbus

The aircraft was meant for intra-Asian, Middle East-Europe, and transatlantic routes in particular, all of which have high traffic. Leahy noted that the wider body of the A350 would give airlines more seats and passengers more comfort over the 787-10. So, where did this aircraft go?

Disappeared, but not dead

After 2013, Airbus become quiet about the A350 Regional, no longer discussing the new aircraft type publicly. Singapore Airlines ended up with the standard A350-900s, while Etihad cut its A350 order substantially. Airbus effectively let the aircraft type die out, focusing on the standard A350 variants instead and letting the type joined the list of undeveloped planes (remember the A350-800?).

However, this didn’t mean the idea itself was dead. In 2019, Japan Airlines took delivery of its first A350-900. The aircraft was meant for busy domestic routes, featuring 369 seats and an MTOW of 217t. While not branded as the A350 Regional (it still had the standard A350-900 engines), the plane does carry forward the legacy. Singapore Airlines also inducted a fleet of regional A350s, with more seats but the same MTOW and engines.

Japan Airlines A350
Japan Airlines’ A350-900s feature more seats and a lower MTOW than the standard aircraft. Photo: Airbus

While the A350 Regional never made it off the ground, the 787-10 didn’t see huge commercial success either. However, airlines did end up finding a way to work with Airbus and reconfigure their A350s for more domestic and regional routes.

Do you think the A350 Regional would’ve been a good idea? Could it have competed with the 787-10? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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