Will Airbus Ever Make An A350neo?

It could be argued that the NEO (new engine option) line-up of Airbus aircraft – particularly the A320neo family – is one of the best decisions Airbus has made in its history building commercial jets. Revising its existing A320ceo (current engine option) greatly boosted aircraft efficiency and gave it a huge competitive edge over Boeing, all without the higher development costs of a clean-sheet design. This strategy was carried over to its older widebody, the A330. Could Airbus one day do this to the A350 and offer the A350neo?

While the A330 was launched in 1987, the A350 is already a much newer jet, having been introduced in 2005. The A330neo was launched in 2014. Photo: Airbus

The (real) newest member of the Airbus family

In terms of clean sheet designs, the A350 is one of the newest members of the Airbus family. Yes, the Bombardier CSeries launched after it and also joined Airbus as the A220 more recently, but as far as pure Airbus designs go, the A350 is the latest.

Therefore, with its 2015 entry-into-service with Qatar Airways, it could be argued that the A350 is still too new to need a new engine option as its technologies are already fairly up to date. However, it’s essentially guaranteed that this won’t last much longer.

While a clean sheet design offers planemakers the flexibility to make drastic redesigns of many aircraft characteristics, it also drives up airlines’ costs as they adapt to the new aircraft with additional training. Photo: Airbus

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Recruiting designers and engineers

It was actually in November 2018 when we first heard the idea of a re-engined A350. According to Bloomberg, Airbus was hiring staff to work on a new version of its latest A350 widebody, powered by a new generation of engine and planned for launch from the middle of the 2020s. It was reported that the company would be recruiting designers and engineers in Toulouse and Madrid. The recruitment drive was also looking for talent to develop a new narrowbody aircraft.

Airbus played it safe in disclosing this news, saying that its projects aren’t guaranteed to be launched or to enter production, telling Bloomberg,

“As a leading aircraft manufacturer we are looking at many ways to advance our product line, there are many studies, but not all see the light of day.”

airbus jets
The A330neo has already worked out reasonably well for Airbus, giving it a reason to take the same strategy for its A350. Photo: Airbus

Engine technologies continue to improve

Of course, we have to talk about engines when discussing an A350 ‘new engine option!’ Currently, Rolls-Royce is the sole supplier of engines for the A350 program with its Trent XWB series of engines. But what engines might we see for an A350neo?

Rolls-Royce is looking at an entry-into-service in 2025 for its Ultrafan model, which promises to set “new benchmarks in efficiency, environmental performance, and precision engineering.” Meanwhile, France’s Safran was said to be working on a demonstrator that will be ready for ground tests by 2021.

Will Airbus Ever Make An A350neo?
In terms of certified and available engines, the GE9X stands out above other engines. For now, at least. Photo: GE Aviation

On the American side, Pratt & Whitney was reportedly testing a similar upgrade of its geared turbofan. Meanwhile, General Electric’s GE9X, which exclusively powers the Boeing 777X line, touts itself as “the world’s largest and most powerful commercial aircraft engine.”

Indeed, it seems only a matter of time before Airbus unveils the A350neo. The aircraft has already racked up over 900 orders, which means that there will be thousands of pilots and technicians already familiar with this design, giving Airbus incentive to build on an already successful platform.

What do you think? Will we see an A350neo from Airbus? And when do you think this might be? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.