Qatar Airways should receive the first of its A350 extra-wide bodied aircraft on Dec. 22 – slightly more than a week after the initial handover date was scrapped at the last minute without public explanation.
A delivery ceremony and preview flight at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France have now been fixed for the new date, the manufacturer told Reuters newswire yesterday.
Qatar Airways is due to be the global launch customer for the A350XWB jet and had planned a ceremonial transfer in Toulouse for today (Dec. 13). The plane was then due to fly to Qatar, with events scheduled at Hamad International Airport in Doha on Monday.
However, it issued a statement on Wednesday announcing that the event had been postponed without providing a reason or new date for the handover.
Some speculated that it had been a move by Qatar Airways to secure a better deal. The airline has a total of 80 of the aircraft on order, including 43 of the -900 model and a further 37 of the larger -1000 type. The latter model is not due to enter service until 2017.
The head of Airbus’s program for the jet told Reuters that the manufacturer was running more flights on the aircraft for “very minor issues”, admitting that its initial schedule of transfer may have been ambitious.
“We planned 10 days for the delivery process. It was perhaps a little bit optimistic knowing it was the very first aircraft,” Reuters reports Didier Evrard, head of the A350 program as saying to investors.
Qatar Airways was not immediately available for comment on the new transfer date.
However, during an unrelated press event in Doha on Thursday, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker suggested the A350 would make its maiden commercial flight between Doha and Frankfurt as scheduled next month:
“Yes, we have a small issue that we are trying to solve with Airbus. This issue should be resolved very soon and then we will be taking the delivery of our airplanes imminently.
The Airbus A350 will be the backbone of Qatar Airways’ fleet … (and) the aircraft is already scheduled to do the first commercial flight on Jan. 15,” he said.
Al Baker previously told reporters that after the first A350 delivery, the airline expects to receive nine of the carbon-fiber aircraft by next year, followed by one a month in 2016 and two each month in 2017.
Each A350-900 is estimated to cost around $277.7 million.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani, approved the launch of the second phase of expansion at Hamad International Airport during a meeting with Cabinet members at the Emiri Diwan on Thursday.
The fourth quarter of 2015 was set as the deadline for awarding the design contract, completing the design works and deciding the budget of the second phase, Qatar News Agency reports.
In October this year, Al Baker told Doha News that architects were finalizing design plans for an expansion of the recently opened airport passenger terminal, and that he expected British architect Sir Norman Foster to wrap up his work “over the next few months.”
Once the design is set, construction firms would be invited to bid on the extension project, which should be completed within the next three years, Al Baker added.
The final phase of the airport would effectively increase the size of the passenger terminal by 50 percent, according to details released by the airport earlier this year.
The expansion project also includes plans to add 24 new airplane gates directly attached to the terminal, bringing the total to 65. That’s in addition to the 22 existing “remote gates” on the tarmac that require buses to bring passengers to the terminal.
The expansion would effectively increase the airport’s capacity by two-thirds, to 50 million travelers annually.