Why Did American Airlines Cancel Their Airbus A350 Order?

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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?

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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.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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