MIAMI — Airbus A350 continues gaining momentum. After its presentation during the Paris Air Show and the delivery to Vietnam Airlines -its second worldwide operator- last month, the airliner has now arrived to the United States as part of its tour in the Americas.
Monday afternoon, an Airbus A350-900 (F-WWCF, MSN 002), touched down in Atlanta wherein it will be presented to Delta Air Lines, who ordered 25 A350XWB aircraft as part of their major widebody order placed in 2014.
After landing in Atlanta Monday, the aircraft was brought to a Delta Technical Operations Center (Tech Ops) hangar where the aircraft is being made available to Delta employees during its three-day visit.
Delta is scheduled to receive their first A350-900 in the second quarter of 2017, with five more to follow during this year. This will line Delta up as the second American carrier to receive the A350 shortly after American Airlines. Neither airline will be the first to operate the A350 in the United States however. Qatar Airways will have that distinction on January 1st, 2016 on the Doha – Philadelphia route. Brazilian carrier TAM will follow shortly after, offering daily flights from Sao Paulo to Miami in March.
For Delta, having the A350 in Atlanta offers an invaluable experience to hundreds of employees visiting the aircraft. Michael Thomas, Delta Corporate Communications said “We got a lot of value today from entry into service teams getting a good chance to really see the aircraft up close and personal. We had everything from ground support equipment teams all the way through engineering, and Tech Ops teams who are going to maintain the engines and cabin.”
When talking about the importance of the A350 visiting Atlanta, Thomas assured that “Atlanta is the home base of Delta Airlines. This is where our headquarters is, this is where the bulk of the people who did the real heavy lifting to bring this airplane into our fleet are.”
Delta employees slowly trickled in throughout our visit to view the next generation aircraft throughout our visit. An employee seemed to echo the consensus of the crowd: “It’s a beautiful airplane. Our customers and our flight crews are going to love it.”
Delta says it is too early to tell how the interior of their A350 will be configured, however, the airline has an ample opportunity to revolutionize its long-haul product. Once Delta takes delivery of the first aircraft, it will likely undergo through proving flights so that crews may learn the ins and outs of the aircraft.
The A350 is part of a multi-million dollar revamp of Delta’s long haul fleet that will welcome the 25 A350-900 and 25 A330-900neo aircraft. The A350-900 will predominantly be flown on Pacific routes to the Asian theater according to Delta, replacing its aging Boeing 747-400 fleet, given the suitability of this next-generation aircraft for ultra-long haul routes.
While Detroit and Minneapolis hubs will have deployed most of Delta’s A350 fleet, the airline did not rule out the possibility of Atlanta hosting several A350-900 routes. The A330neos will predominantly be used on Atlantic routes and medium haul international routes.
Prior to the first delivery, Airbus and launch customer Qatar Airways previewed the first production A350 to the world. The Qatar A350 instantly received rave reviews from around the industry. Qatar Airways took delivery of the first production A350 on December 22nd of 2014 as a new era in commercial aviation began. Since then, Qatar has taken delivery of four A350 aircraft, with a fifth coming shortly. The A350 had a notable entry into service due to the lack of problems the program and launch customer Qatar Airways faced, though initial production and deliveries have lagged behind expectation. Qatar quickly achieved a 99% dispatch rate with the A350 upon entry into service.
On June 30th, Vietnam Airlines became the second carrier to take delivery of the A350. The carrier wasted no time putting the A350 into service with the first proving flight occurring just three days after delivery. The third scheduled operator and European launch customer of the A350 is Finnair with 19 A350-900 aircraft on order. Their first aircraft is painted and preparing for test flights in Toulouse, France with delivery scheduled in September.
So far, the A350 Americas tour has visited three out of eight cities scheduled. The first stop was in Brazil, where the aircraft visited TAM and Azul Linhas Aereas Brasileiras, both A350 customers. Also, the aircraft made a visit to Colombia for the first time to visit Avianca -another Latin American customer.
In Colombia, the aircraft performed a fly-by over Medellin during the F-Air Colombia 2015, and underwent autoland tests at El Dorado International Airport taking advantage of Bogota’s high altitude. Frank Chapman, Airbus Experimental Test Pilot, ran the A350 through 13 touch-and-go landings to prove the autoland features at 8,500 feet. By completing these tests, the airliner may opt now for an autoland certification up to 9,200 feet -an upgrade from the current 7,000 feet certification.
After its visit to Delta Air lines, the A350 will fly to Newark and Chicago O’Hare to visit United Airlines, customer with a logbook for 35 units. After Chicago, the aircraft will stay in Milwaukee for two days ahead to the aerial and static display at EAA Airventure in Oshkosh. American Airlines will not host the aircraft this time. In May 2014, the airliner visited its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub, prior to undergoing extreme climate testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
While each of the US big three carriers ordered the A350, each order is unique. Delta opted to order 25 of the more popular A350-900. This is likely due to favorable production slots offered by Airbus that Boeing simply could not offer with the 787. American Airlines inherited their order for the A350 from US Airways in the form of 18 A350-800 and 4 A350-900 aircraft. American soon followed the industry trend of converting all A350-800 aircraft to the larger -900 variant while keeping the total number of frames at 22. United Airlines ordered 25 A350-900 aircraft in March of 2010, and in June 2013, converted the order to 35 of the larger and longer range A350-1000.
The Americas tour will likely mark one of the last flying world tours Airbus will conduct with the A350. Airbus expects to have four out of the five test aircraft sold or to have found a new owner by the end of this year. Two of the aircraft Airbus will sell are fitted with heavy test equipment, while two aircraft are fitted with mock cabins used for route proving purposes. Airbus plans on keeping MSN1 for further testing and future improvements.
With airlines such as Qatar and Vietnam taking delivery of their first A350s, the Americas tour marks a ceremonial close to a successful career at Airbus for MSN2, the carbon livery aircraft.