In our ongoing Supply Chain Matters coverage of aerospace supply chains, we have provided commentaries related to the unique and often demanding challenges of this industry, particularly when it involves the intersection of new aircraft program launch and supply chain management.
Thus, we along with others in the business and aerospace community were somewhat taken by surprise with today’s news regarding the new Airbus A350 program, and the planned first customer delivery of this aircraft which was scheduled in just a few days.
Launch customer Qatar Airways announced today that it was delaying delivery of its new A350 XWB aircraft without citing a specific reason for the postponement. News of this announcement caused Airbus stock to drop over 10 percent on the Paris exchange.
Just last week, Qatar issued a press release setting the date for the exchange of title as December 13. The airline has ordered 80 A350 in total. The first operational flight for the launch aircraft is scheduled for January 2015 on the Doha to Frankfurt schedule. Today’s release states: “Qatar Airways announces that the Airbus A350 aircraft ceremonial transfer of title has been postponed until further notice”
In its published news release, Bloomberg’s opening sentence stated the obvious: “Airbus Group which prided itself on keeping to the development schedule for the new A350 jet suffered an embarrassing last-minute delay as first customer Qatar Airways Ltd. halted a handover planned for this week.” The Bloomberg report further indicates that Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar is notorious in the industry for his public grilling of both Airbus and Boeing, underscoring the growing influence of Middle Eastern air carriers that have placed huge jet orders. In June, Qatar postponed the delivery of 13 Airbus A380 super jumbo aircraft, eventually taking delivery in September.
Also in June, Emirates Airlines decided to walk away from its 2007 deal to purchase 50 A350-990 aircraft, the same model type destined for Qatar. Emirates cited a re-look at future fleet requirements as its reason to elect not to take delivery. According to a published Wall Street Journal report reflecting on the Emirates June announcement, it appeared that Emirates was opting to build its long-haul fleet around Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 aircraft while Qatar was opting for Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircraft.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders was quick to issue a statement indicating he was confident that delivery to Qatar will happen soon and that the launch aircraft is on the tarmac and ready.
According to reports, Airbus invested nearly $14 billion in development of the new A350 and has positioned this aircraft to compete among competitive offerings of the Boeing 787 and 777. Airbus has booked 778 orders of the A350 as of November.
Chances are that our reading audience has experienced challenges with a rather demanding and influential customer with exacting standards. In the case of Airbus, a relatively flawless set of A350 pre-launch and first customer milestones goes on temporary hold while one rather influential customer’s demands are completely satisfied to expectations.