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.

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Caroline

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

John

It’s a better airplane.

CP Sherman

“Better airplane”?

Ask British Airways how THEIR Dreamliners have been working out for them.

Chris Parker

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

Parker West

Agreed, but give them credit for coming to their senses and correcting that mistake.

Nigel

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… Read more »

Dave G

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

pat K

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!

David G

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… Read more »

Reece

Having flown both, I disagree!

Nigel

So do I

Parker West

Agreed

David NL

Definitely don’t agree – had a superb night flight in economy on the A350 even though i ha a seat at the back of the aircraft. My return flight on the dreamliner was OK but in my view just not quite as comfortable. The only way that the dreamliner was better is that it has a more promising name.

Roy Mercer

The 787 and 737 Max now have huge quality histories, and both are known for cramped accommodations, both in the seating and the lavs. To call the 787 a “Dreamliner” makes me wince..it is not the superior aircraft that the A350 is, and that moniker is just too Hollywoodish. Boeing seems bent on a cheaper, faster production line which won’t win out in the end. And now the A220 looms over the dated technology of the 737. Bye bye Boeing…

Keith

Pressure/noise is a wash depending on engine choice. PaxEx – depends on the aircraft configuration. AA and many others use a 3-3-3 rather than the designed 2-4-2 for their 787 (nominal 17″ seats vs 18″ seats). Because the 350 was “redesigned” after the 787 was in use they allowed for an extra width and 3-3-3 to be 18″. So PaxEx in economy 350 vs 787 – 350 wins if you are part of the US population (among others) that is average height/weight or above – interestingly the average has been increasing over the last 20 or so years so Boeing’s… Read more »

Philip Alexander

The Boeing 777X is a better aircraft and made in America.

CP

The Airbus A320 and A220 are also products of the USA (Mobile, Alabama).

KP

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

Parker West

Boeing is all over the world as well as buying from suppliers Italy to China. Despite the token assembly plant in Mobile, AirBus is a European concern, in particular a French and German corporation.
Despite the boo birds the 787 is saving fuel costs and making money for quite a number of happy customers. Yes, RollsRoyce really f’ed up the Trent 1000 engines made for the 787. It’s odd that a similar design for the 350, the Trent 1100 seems OK, so far. What did RR do right with the 1100 that the did not do with the 1000?

Nigel

“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.

David NL

Speaking as a European am I supposed to think that an aircraft being made in America is a good thing or a bad thing. I hoped we were past this but apparently not!

Robert

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!!!!

Parker West

The 350 has higher seat mile costs so just where is this money saving going to come from. Theoretically the 350’s quick and cheap window frame, fuselage construction would be prone to more problems than the solid sections found with 3the 787.

Tobias Mattsson

The A350XWB has a larger cargo capacity compared to the 787-9 so the money saving/money making most likely comes from cargo. Also the A350’s has an average longer range than the 787’s and can reach farther destinations. Also being slightly more spacious I would say that the A350 is a winner for me. — From https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329419708_The_Air_Cargo_Carrying_Potential_of_The_Airbus_A350-900XWB_and_Boeing_787-9_Aircraft_on_Their_Ultra-Long-Haul_Flights_A_Case_Study_for_Flights_from_San_Francisco_to_Singapore “The introduction of the Airbus A350-900 (A359) and the Boeing B787-9 (B789) have enabled airlines to operate ultra-long-range services. Using a mixed methods research design, this study has examined the air cargo-carrying potential of Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900XWB (A359) and United Airlines Boeing B787-9… Read more »

David Cartwright

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 .

KP

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

Nigel

There are also more Volkswagons than BMWs…but I prefer BMWs, thank you 😏

KP

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.

Vedant Ganesh

The 787 is much louder and cramped, the carbon composite structure is much stronger. Remember that the A350 has a cabin altitude of 200 ft
PS what about the engines and battery? 😏

KP

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

oldestGrumpiest

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… Read more »

Nigel

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.

oldestGrumpiest

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… Read more »

Steven

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.

Joanna Bailey

Very interesting to hear, thanks for sharing 🙂

KP

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… Read more »

MW

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?

TransWorldE

Steven: I find it appalling that you claim to be a pilot and don’t know what engines are the problem ! And the form of input makes it a dinosaur? Really? Both do the same thing don’t they? And then you go onto say more elecric and fires which in fact were a battery issue. Having been a pilot, all I can say is pilots are some of the worst people to ask (well other than me). They think because they fly they are special. We are not. We have our mix of idiots, normal and very good (Sellenberger) Sadly… Read more »

Laurie Johnston

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

Nigel

Not true: give me 10 abreast in an A380 any day compares to 9 abreast in a Dreamliner.

KP

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 —

Parker West

Sorry but my ass can’t register 1/2” or seat width. If you have a very large caboose, you should definitely fly the 350. I fully understand your preference.

J

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,… Read more »

SAM

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… Read more »

DenSanAZ

I just cringe everyone I see someone post that America West Airlines ‘merged’ with USAir which is simply not true. America West BOUGHT USAir and saved them from liquidation! I would think that Simply Flying would know the difference.

Parker West

Amen, I was there, HP absorbed the frequently bankrupt US.

Jim P

Thus the presence of pockets of acrimony all over the American Airlines system. LUS (Legacy US Airways) say that they merged with America West. Just like some LTW (Legacy TWA) say that TWA merged with American when truth be known American bought what was left of TWA which otherwise would have gone into dissolution from bankruptcy.

RC20

This is another none of our business and options are not worth the electrons they are written with. AA made a fleet decision that they felt worked for them. Both are good aircraft and they don’t really compete directly. The only possible downside is the exclusiveness of the A350 to0 the RR engines. It took 5 years for the Trent 1000 issue to show up. As we saw with Norwegian, they still don’t know the issue. The good news for the 787 is it has two choices and NZ opted out of the Trents.

Scanman

Question for you guys regarding cabin noise: I haven’t flown the 787 yet but that whining noise you hear on taxi, climb out, descent and landing, can you hear that right through the aircraft or only if you sit near the engines? Sounds cool but would be annoying after a while. I assume it’s the hydraulic demand pumps like on the 777. As I said, haven’t flown it but watched Youtube vids and heard it there. And does the A350 have that sound as well? Thanks in advance.

Maurice.B

I have recently flown an A350 from Milan to Shanghai. I extensively fly on A330. To me their is minimal difference in the noise. I cannot comment on the B787 as I have not yet flown on one. All the others I have. The quietest and smoothest by far is the A380. The others meh… The only real benefit of the A350 and I assume also with the B787 is the higher humidity. I did feel well rested after flying the A350. Other that that I really cannot see what all the fuss is with the Airbus and Boeing fanboys.… Read more »

IanFromHKG

What a wonderfully entertaining thread. Partisanship and patriotism on the one hand, facts and serious debate on the other. Urban myths all over the place. Let’s look at a few of those: “the 787 flying experience is superior. It’s smoother, quieter, better cabin and better windows”. As some have mentioned already, smoother depends on the environment. Quieter – definitely not, the A350 is measurably quieter. Better cabin – dependent on airline, but the A350 is wider so automatically lends itself to a better cabin, and also offers the option of adjustable humidity in different cabins (which is great if you… Read more »

Jim

The A359 would have been a good 772E replacement for AA. The 772E fleet is getting up there in age.

Maybe they have decided that they can get the job done with the 787-10. I can’t think of any AA 772E routes that are at the edge of the range envelope. So maybe the more limited range of the 787-10 will be ok. They can always deploy the 77W on routes that need more range capability.

Not to despair for Airbus, the A321XLR will be a good 757 replacement for AA.