Why Did American Airlines Cancel Their Airbus A350 Order?

Back at the beginning of 2018, American Airlines decided to cancel their order for 20 Airbus A350s. This was a bit of a surprise, because the carrier had the type on order since 2005 and didn’t seem to have the right motivation for this move.

Airbus A350
American Airlines had the A350 on order for many years. Photo: Airbus

Why did American cancel their long-standing order of A350s and was it the right move for the carrier?

What are the details?

The original order for 20 Airbus A350s came from US Airways back in 2005, after they merged with America West Airlines. The choice of the A350 made sense, as the merged fleet had a weighting of A320s and A330s. According to Flight Global, there was also the matter of a $250m loan from Airbus to assist with company restructuring.

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Essentially, they had no choice than to order the type from Airbus if they wanted to survive as a carrier. Doug Parker, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of the newly merged US Airways, said in an Airbus statement,

“When we restructured the airline, we knew we would need a new aircraft to grow with us, and the A350 truly fits the bill. As both halves of our heritage include Airbus fleets, we have great confidence in the brand, and look forward to an airplane that meets our needs for range, economy, and comfort, while offering our crews technology with which they are already experienced.”

Airbus
US Airways A350-800. Photo: Airbus

It was planned that US Airways would become the launch customer of the A350 in 2011. These plans fell apart when Airbus decided to take the A350 back to the drawing board to redesign it, in order to better compete with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

When Airbus came back to the table in 2007 with their A350 XWB, US Airways expanded their order to 22 A350s, a mix of many of the smaller A350-800 and a few of the larger A350-900. Longtime readers will know that ultimately the A350-800 would not be built, but we will get to that later. The date set for the first delivery was now 2014, three years later than originally planned.

Why did American cancel their order?

By 2009, US Airways had deferred the delivery of their first aircraft by three years to 2017. When the early 2010s rolled around, American Airlines was now aggressive integrating US Airways into their brand. Whilst they had been a merged company for some time, they had operated as different brands until being granted a single AOC by the FAA in 2015.

Thus, when American Airlines looked at the US Airways order book, their heavy Boeing fleet match (which included the Boeing 787) didn’t make sense in their eyes. They did not want any more long-range Airbus aircraft.

American Airlines decided to switch all the orders of the A350 from the -800 type to the -900 type, causing Airbus to drop the variant completely. This did not impress the management of American Airlines, who pushed back on the capacity of the aircraft and did not want to commit to the purchase at that time. They also pushed back delivery again, to 2020 onwards.

Eventually, American Airlines decided to cancel the US Airways order outright, and order Boeing 787 aircraft instead.

Why did American Airlines cancel the order?

Apart from the Boeing heavy fleet listed above, American also stated that they were “avoiding adding complexity to the fleet” and “from a commonality standpoint and an operations standpoint”, as described by AA’s Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr on a Podcast.

American Airlines is on a mission to reduce the scale and complexity of its fleet. They want one type of medium haul, one type of short-haul, etc, and not to have different variants across the fleet. This will reduce maintenance costs, and allow more flexibility with pilot deployment.

American Airlines would go on to order the A321XLR at the Paris Air Show.

Airbus
Airbus A321XLR in American Airlines livery. Photo: Airbus

What do you think? Should AA have followed through with their A350 order? Let us know in the comments.

32 comments
  1. “Eventually, American Airlines decided to cancel the US Airways order outright, and order Boeing 787 aircraft instead”
    Airlines make mistakes too .

      1. Dream on..no pun intended.
        The 787 should have been a great plane but has suffered from the MAX syndrome…cost cutting, poor quality.
        There is a potential risk 1% of an uncontrollable engine fire. This is on a 30 day check!
        Low risk or not that should be checked every flight.
        Add that to engine problems…

        That has gone my avoid list withthe MAX

  2. Well, if you look at the crazy mixed bag of longhaul aircraft types that Lufthansa has — and they seem to manage, somehow — then it wouldn’t have killed American to have the A350 in the mix.
    Also, for example, Delta has the A350 (which they want to use predominantly on transpacific routes) and the A330(neo) (which they want to use predominantly on transatlantic routes); so, assigning different types to different regions can also work.
    I suspect politics: Boeing probably offered American a very sweet deal on extra Dreamliners. American Airlines is a HUGE user of the A321, and it would have been an embarrassment for Boeing if American had also defected on their widebody fleet.
    One way or another, it’s a pity that American customers have to put up with cramped Dreamliners rather than spacious A350s.

  3. having flown both, the 787 flying experience is superior. It’s smoother, quieter, better cabin and better windows.

    1. Same here – both A350 and 787 have the higher cabin pressures which leads to almost zero jet lag after a long haul. Love that by itself!

    2. I have to disagree. This has nothing to do with the airliner, and everything to do with the airline.
      – Smoother: Debatable, mostly depends on route, fly a 787 over some mountain range, it will be as bumpy as any other airliner
      – Quieter: Mostly depends on how far you are sitting from the engines. The A380 fares the best in this department, if you ask me, since you’re so far from the engines.
      – Cabin: Fully designed for / customized by airline, it has nothing to do with Airbus or Boeing.
      – Windows: Sure, the large dimming windows are cool and the first time I flew it, I had fun with them, but quite frankly, you quickly forget about them after a couple flights. How often do you mess with your window when you fly anyway?

      I’ve flown on both aircrafts, on many, many airlines, and both are really, really fine machines, but most of the experience, which is what you seem to be basing your opinion off, is an airline thing. IMO, both 787 and 350 have pros and cons, but in the end, they’re very comparable–the airline makes the difference.

      1. Built in America simply to pull political strings — the A320 and A220 aren’t American — would love to see Boeing put a plant in Germany and call it European

    1. “Made in America” is not necessarily a positive label nowadays: the MAX is also “Made in America”, and we know what a wonderful story that has been so far 😉
      And the 777X is, indeed, a bigger aircraft…which might help explain why it’s not selling well. Most airlines seem to have decided that they don’t want anything bigger than a B787 / A350.

  4. American Airlines will always be LAST the A350 would have been a good fit for them and money maker, They should follow Delta’s lead because it works and makes money!!!!

  5. The A350 is far superior to the 787 in all departments , it’s more spacious , quieter and offers a better cabin environment . Yes the windows are bigger in the 787 , but big deal who’s bothered . The 787 has build quality issues too , so it’s the 350 for me .

    1. A true Airbus fan — always better — never facts to back it up — so which airplane has sold more, The B787 or A350? I think the experts who ORDER those planes might know a few things

        1. Yep –again– just an OPINION –its like a ANUS — everybody has one and thinks theirs doesn’t stink like others. But NIGEL real what you like to comment on — it wasn’t a question of PREFERENCE but a statement on being superior — and Volkswagons are better than BMWs.

        2. Love that response NIGEL — again — Airbus fans and OPINIONS — the argument was which aircraft is superior — fact – Boeing models have OUTSOLD Airbus which means the guys and girls BUYING them have backed Boeing — and if you ever drive a car to its limit that BMW will break and cost far more than Volkswagons – just try to destroy a Beetle

  6. Obviously we normal readers are not privy to all of the items that go into decisions of this nature, but if you look at the order situation since the A350 started being produced and true efficiency numbers became available, one can see that American is not alone in its assessment. The A350 has limitations in carrying extra baggage (a money maker for airlines), and appears to be more expensive to buy, fly, and maintain. It is wider so is more comfortable, but passengers do not care enough about that to pay out higher ticket prices.

    I am a neutral person (American living in Europe) and can say that Airbus is winning the single aisle battle, but looking at the sales records over the last 5-7 years, fear that the A350 follows the A380 into being a historical note of lost investment.

    1. A strange comparison: the A350 (introduced later than the 787) has order numbers in excess of 900, and it’s still selling, despite the fact that it has a higher list price than the Dreamliner. The A380 only got to 300. The darling 777X is stuck at 350, with no orders from any US airline, and 40% of orders from the ME3.

      1. The 777 keeps getting sales due to the freighter version, so I have little fear for its future, but I will agree that its passenger model has had slow sales. All the major airline orders have gone to the 787 lately unless you want to look at the one where Airbus bought its way into the A350 contract by purchasing back A380s. I am not being critical and far from biased (I readily give Airbus a lead in the single aisle competition, and they do great imaginative things with the A321, and there have been some positive A330neo sales), I am only looking at the hard numbers in relation to when they started deliveries. Yes the A350 has a lot of orders, but from before the first delivery. (Remember that when you look at the order numbers the production expectation for the A380 was 30 a year as apposed to 120 a year for the A350, so to be equivalent there need to be significantly more A350 sales).

        Order comparison I have found on the internet is:
        A380: (33), 9, 4, 32, 19, 9, 42 – starting in 2007
        A350: (-32), -3, 41, 36, 40 , (-1) – starting in 2014

        I put years that I do not put much stock in, in () being first year when only 1 plane was delivered, and 2019 for A350. So I will let you tell me which has a better record for sales after start of production. We cannot really do a comparison with the 777X because it has not been delivered.

  7. As an A350 Captain, I prefer it over the 787, and they are very comparable; however, the Dreamliner’s cockpit including the yoke looks like a dinosaur compared to the A350. The A350 is the nicest flying transport type airplane I have ever flown. Besides the all electric jet catching fire a lot when it first came out, it has had major problems with it’s engines as well. We have had no such issues with the A350. At least not yet.

    1. Curious, are you talking about those European Rolls Royce engines on the 787? And since you fly an A350, has Airbus fixed that little problem with the left and right joysticks that if one pilot pulls back and the other pushes forward — the aircraft just keeps doing whatever came first without warning anybody about the issue like it did in AF 447? Of course that crash was called pilot error even with the aircraft giving the pilots bad info and one pilot unable to control the aircraft due to the other one reacting to the incorrect info being given but Airbus NEVER would make a bad plane like Boeing to be sure

      1. Eh, yes it will. If both sidesticks are being used, an aural warning of “Dual Input” would sound continuously till either one sidestick is released, or the priority button on a sidestick is pushed. Maybe check the facts before you start publishing your thoughts?

  8. Don’t forget you lot , nine abreast is far superior than a sardine 10 abreast . DOESN’T matter where it’s made

      1. Hey are we talking about that LEMON A380 that has cost Airbus all that money they have no intention of paying back to the governments of Europe? The ones that now have an AD about wing root cracks — the one that if it wasn’t for EMIRATES airline would be such a TOTAL FAILURE —

  9. Had nothing to do with comfort, smooth flying or any other subjective attributes. Nor politics. Simple math; they already have over 40 787-8/9’s and 25 more firm orders (plus I imagine some options). If you have 65 of an aircraft type why the hell would you add 22 of a different type that accomplishes basically the same mission? Have to get pilots trained with new simulators (not cheap), flight attendants and mechanics have to get qualified and a new set of rotable parts. Very soon their wide body fleet will be 777/787/330; down the road only 777/787. Simplified training, parts, much easier to move things around when stuff goes wrong.

  10. I feel both planes are excellent, having flown on both. Big improvement over older models in both comfort and efficiency.
    Seems the 787 is more common and fits into the mix of small capacity long hall moving to large capacity shorter hall (6000nm if you call that short) better. Also fits that middle range with the 787-8, covering long range with fewer passengers. Airbus is trying to do that with the a321 xlr but will likely not make the roots profitable for airlines nor comfortable for passengers. When loaded with gas and few passengers the a321 weighs a lot increasing gate costs, and fuel consumption while decreasing profitability on passenger numbers. 10 hours on a a320 or 737 sounds miserable. If they built the a350-8 they would have had similarities in covering fleet needs to the 787 but not as efficiently. Also the A350 is heavier, has one engine option, and oddly less max payload when comparing 787-9 to a350-9. Apples to apples. Needs more runway for take off and longer run ways for landing. Engines supposedly not as good in hot climates. That being said they have more capacity and range than the 787 even with the 787-10, boeing had to build the 777X to meet this need. Also the 787 had battery fires and a fleet grounding. Either way you look at it Boeing won both this battle and war, having 3 times as many deliveries and amost twice the number ordered.
    So not just American airlines and not likely political as many suggest. Airbus did win the 320neo vs 737max match up. Both make excellent planes, too bad the 737max had those accidents but Boeing can only blame themselves for that.

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