What Happened To American Airlines’ Airbus A350 Order?

At one time, American Airlines had 22 Airbus A350 aircraft on order. In April 2018, the airline reached an agreement with Airbus to cancel the order, which first came to American Airlines after a merger with US Airways. Here’s the story behind the order and what happened to it.

US Airways A350
American Airlines inherited its order for the Airbus A350 from its merger with US Airways. Photo: Airbus

US Airways orders the Airbus A350

In late 2005, US Airways firmed up an order for 20 Airbus A350 aircraft. The plan was for the A350s to help broaden US Airways’ international flights with deliveries slated to start in 2011 and run through 2014. Chairman, president, and CEO of US Airways, Doug Parker, stated the following in an Airbus news release viewed by Simple Flying at the time of the order:

“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.”

In mentioning both halves, Doug Parker was speaking of the completed merger between US Airways and America West Airlines. At the time, America West mainly flew in the Western US with its hubs in Las Vegas and Phoenix. US Airways was primarily based out of the Eastern United States with major hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte with significant operations in Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston. The combined US Airways had a large fleet of aircraft at the time, including Airbus A320 family jets and Airbus A330s.

US Airways A330-300
US Airways received a loan from Airbus. In return, the airline ordered the A350. Photo: Ian Gratton via Flickr

However, as the New York Times details, the America West and US Airways merger was backed by $350 million from a variety of investors. Airbus provided the airline a $250 million loan. In return, the airline ordered the A350. That number later increased to 22 aircraft in 2007 with 18 of the A350-800s and four of the A350-900s.

US Airways and American Airlines merge

At the time of the merger, US Airways had a fleet of nearly 350 aircraft. That included Airbus A330s (-300s and -200s), A321s, A320s, A319s, Boeing 767-200ERs, Boeing 757-200s, Boeing 737-400s, and ERJ 190s.

US Airways and AA
American Airlines inherited the order with its merger with US Airways. Pictured above from left to right is the new American livery post-merger next to a US Airways plane, next to a pre-merger American livery. Photo: redlegsfan21 via Flickr

In the wake of the merger, the Boeing 737-400s were retired with the 767-200ERs on their way out. Other than that, American absorbed a vast majority of the aircraft in US Airways’ fleet. This included aircraft on order.

American defers the order

In 2013, American Airlines converted the US Airways order to 22 of the A350-900 instead of the mix US Airways had on order. In 2014, American expected all 22 A350s to be delivered by 2019, with the first six scheduled to arrive in 2017. In 2015, that was amended to 4 in 2017 with two pushed out to 2020. In 2016, it was further amended to two deliveries in 2018 and five deliveries in each in 2019, 2020, 2021, and beyond 2022.

American Airlines in Washington
Most of American’s Airbus planes came from the merger with US Airways. Photo: Getty Images

This was further amended in 2017 with American pushing the first two out to 2020, five in 2021, five in 2022, and ten in 2023 and beyond. Finally, in April 2018, Airbus and American reached an agreement to cancel the airline’s order for the Airbus A350s.

American ordered the Boeing 787 instead

Also, in April 2018, American placed an order for 47 Boeing 787 jets, including 22 787-8s and 25 787-9s. At the end of 2018, American’s widebody fleet included the following:

  • 15 Airbus A330-200s
  • Nine Airbus A330-300s
  • 24 Boeing 767-300ERs
  • 47 Boeing 777-200ERs
  • 20 Boeing 777-300ERs
  • 20 Boeing 787-8s
  • 20 Boeing 787-9s

The Airbus A350 would have added additional fleet complexity, which would, in turn, increase costs and create a further detriment to the airline.

American Airlines 787-8 Dreamliner
American Airlines chose to stick with fleet commonality in taking on more 787s. Photo: Getty Images

Before ordering 47 787s, American evaluated the A350 and A330neo for its future fleet plans. However, the added commonality for the 787 won out. At the time of the order, American planned to replace some A330-300s and older 777-200s with the 787-9s. Due to the current crisis, however, American retired the Airbus A330-300 along with the Embraer E190s it inherited from US Airways. The Airbus A330-200s remain in long-term storage.

Where US Airways was the first US carrier to order the A350, American Airlines became the only one of the big three US carriers to remove the plane from its order book. United Airlines maintains an order for 45 Airbus A350s, but the first of those jets are not expected until 2027.

Do you think American Airlines should have taken the Airbus A350? Let us know in the comments!