What Happened To Tunisair’s Airbus A350-800 Order?

Way back in 2008, Tunisair celebrated its 60th anniversary by placing a firm order with Airbus for three A350-800, three A330-200, and ten A320s. The airline received its first A330-200 in June 2015 and has 15 A320s in its fleet. But what happened to its order of A350-800s? We’ve found out what happened.

Airbus A350-800 Tunisair
Tunisair ordered three Airbus A350-800s, but they never arrived. Photo: Airbus

The plane that never left the ground

The Airbus A350 originally came in three variants; the -800, -900, and -1000. However, only the -900 and the -1000 actually made it into the sky. Despite having close to 200 A350-800 on order from a whole host of airlines, Airbus never got around making the -800. In 2014, at the Farnborough Air show, Airbus unveiled its new A330neo. Within a short space of time, Airbus announced the cancellation of the A350-800.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

To cancel or change?

Most customers switched their A350-800 order over to the A330neo or the slightly larger A350-900. Some, like Hawaiian Airlines, dropped their order altogether. However, Tunisair’s order had disappeared from Airbus’s order books well before the A330 was announced.

According to a FlightGlobal article from 2013, Tunisair had canceled their order for the three A350-800s around May. Unlike other airlines, which switched to the larger variants, Tunisair seemed to have canceled its order completely. However, it did keep its A320 and A330 order.

Airbus A350-900 XWB
Airbus focused production on the -900 and -1000 variants. Most customers of the -800 were happy to switch their orders. Photo: Getty Images

What went wrong?

Around the time it canceled its A350-800 order, Tunisair was going through a difficult period. After a few tough years, the airline was undergoing restructuring to try to get back on track. In 2011 the airline reported a loss of €77.2 million ($98.3 million). By the start of 2013, the airline had to make economies and lay off almost 2,000 staff members.

The airline announced plans to downsize its operations and focus on its core market and dominating the traffic into and out of Tunisia. As such, its order for A350-800s was axed. Several other airlines had decided to cut or change orders for the -800 variation at a similar time. The trend away from the -800 was not prevented by Airbus, who happily changed orders to the larger -900 and focussed on delivering the backlog of orders for the -900 and-1000.

Tunisair underwent financial restructuring and chose to cancel its order, downsizing its network, and laying off staff. Photo: Getty Images

Modern-day Tunisair

In 2011 a political revolution ousted Tunisia’s president. Since then, tourism has slowly increased. As such, Tunisair was ideally placed to capture medium-haul traffic from mainland Europe and other North African countries. According to Planespotters.net, Tunisair’s fleet today consists of 15 A320-200, four A319, two A330-200, and seven Boeing 737-600.

However, Tunisair’s fleet is not young. With an average age of just over 18 years, the airline will be looking to refresh its fleet. Tunisia’s private airline Nouvelair is looking to launch commercial flights and directly compete against Tunisair on most of Europe’s routes. If Tunisair wants to stay ahead of Nouvelair or wants to launch new routes across to the US, we may see an order soon.

What do you think? Will we see Tunisair look to upgrade its fleet now it is out of financial trouble? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.