When European manufacturer Airbus originally launched the A350 program, it consisted of three variants. These were the -800, -900, and -1000 models. In the end, the latter two variants mentioned survived through to the production and delivery phase. However, the A350-800 version ultimately never came to fruition. So what exactly happened to this shorter variant of Airbus’s next-generation long-range widebody twinjet airliner?
Airbus had designed the -800 to be the shortest variant of the A350 family. The aircraft would have measured 60.45 m (198.3 ft) long. This is significantly shorter compared to 66.8 m (219.2 ft) and 73.79 m (242.1 ft) for the -900 and -1000 variants respectively. The A350-800 had a planned capacity of 276 passengers in a three-class configuration. Meanwhile, the -900 can seat 300-350 passengers across three classes, with the -1000 holding between 350 and 410.
The planned range of the A350-800 was 15,270 km (8,245 NM). This represents a small advantage over the mid-sized -900, which has a range of 15,000 km (8,100 NM). However, it does not match the capabilities of the larger -1000 variant. This version can operate flights over staggering distances as long as 16,100 km (8,700 NM).
The intention of selling the A350-800 was to offer airlines options that would best suit their operational needs. A shorter A350 would allow for (slightly) greater range and (slightly) increased efficiency at the cost of reduced capacity – around 50 seats less than the -900.
The -800 had as many as 182 orders in mid-2008. However, numbers shrank in subsequent years, as Airbus saw more and more customers convert their orders to the larger -900 variant. Then, in 2014, something happened at the Farnborough Airshow that would seal the fate of the A350-800.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Eclipsed by the A330neo
Airbus revealed the A330neo at the 2014 Farnborough Airshow. Shortly after this, Airbus confirmed the cancellation of the A350-800. Having done so, it then made attempts to convince customers with orders of the aircraft to switch to the larger -900, or to the newly-revealed A330neo. The A330neo is an umbrella term for two next-generation variants of the aircraft, namely the A330-800 and -900 versions.
“I believe all of our customers will either convert to the A350-900 or the A330neo. The A330neo is the more efficient solution (compared to the A350-800).” – Fabrice Brégier, former Airbus CEO
The program’s cancellation meant that the 287-seat A330-900 and 257-seat A330-800 would fill that space. Hawaiian Airlines first made the switch to the A330neo, but then canceled its order and made the switch to the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner.’
As such, the only long-haul Airbus airliners operated by Hawaiian are its older A330-200 aircraft. However, other airlines, such as Russian flag carrier Aeroflot and South Korea’s Asiana, did make the switch to larger variants of the A350.
Could it be revived?
Times continue to change, and airlines are always adapting to what the market wants. This is particularly crucial today, in the face of the drop in passenger demand caused by the ongoing pandemic.
In a May 2019 article, we explored the debate as to whether Airbus may produce the A350-800 after all. This discourse was of significance due to the potential for the -800 to be a competitor for the proposed Boeing 797 ‘New Midsize Airplane.’
Furthermore, in November 2018, a rumor from Airbus suggested that it was considering an A350neo range. The ‘new engine option’ that ‘neo’ signifies would be the new Rolls-Royce ‘Ultrafan.’ This engine would allow the A350neo family to achieve fuel efficiency above and beyond that of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Airbus hopes to have the A350neo flying by 2025.
The move towards a re-engined A330 of a similar size to the A350-800 seems like a wise move. Many airlines around the world already operate the original A330-200 and -300 variants. As such, training for the newer ‘neo’ versions would be minimal compared to adopting the less-established A350 into an airline’s fleet.
Airlines are not the only party to benefit from this move. From a passenger experience perspective, many travelers will see the A330neo’s 2-4-2 economy configuration as a more favorable option than the 3-3-3 setup found on existing A350 aircraft. This configuration has no seats that are more than one place away from an aisle, and couples, in particular, will appreciate the privacy of having a pair of seats to themselves.
That said, it will still be interesting to see whether, over the coming years, Airbus will go ahead with the A350-800 after all. Either way, the future of long-haul air travel is positively becoming more efficient than ever before.