With reporting from Gazanfarulla Khan
Airbus’ newest aircraft, the A350, has made its Qatar debut today with a flying display at Doha’s unopened Hamad International Airport (HIA).
Qatar Airways will be the first airline to fly the plane, which is due to carry commercial passengers toward the end of this year.
Qatar’s national airline is also the A350’s largest customer, with 80 of the aircraft on order in a mixture of two models – the 300-seater A350-900; and its larger cousin, the A350-1000. The latter model is not due to enter service until 2017, and will seat up to 350 passengers in three classes.
This makes it larger than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which seats 254, and puts it in the same league as the national carrier’s largest A330 aircraft, which carry up to 305 passengers. Additionally, the airline’s soon-to-be-delivered first A380 will carry 517 passengers in three classes.
Journalists were given a tour of the interior of the A350 today, a test model whose interior has not been completed. They were also treated to an air display, with the A350 being put through a series of impressive maneuvers in front of a VIP crowd.
The aircraft will remain in Doha for two days so that Airbus can carry out some unspecified checks, and will return in June to test its performance during the summer heat.
Delivery ‘later this year’
Speaking to journalists at today’s event, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said the airline was “working very closely” with Airbus to receive its first A350 “later this year,” but declined to give a specific date.
After this first delivery, he said that the airline expected to receive nine A350s next year, followed by one new aircraft a month in 2016, and two aircraft a month in 2017.
Each A350-900 is estimated to cost around $277.7 million.
Yesterday, Al Baker visited the Airbus factory in Toulouse to inspect the first A350 to carry the Qatar Airways logo.
The livery is somewhat different to the usual grey and maroon color scheme, as it’s been painted in a “Launch Customer” design, a hybrid of Qatar Airways’ and Airbus logos and colors.
This aircraft was not flown to Doha to be displayed today, but it will be shown at the Singapore Air Show next week.
Fate of HIA
Though today’s event was held at the HIA, there is still no official word on exactly when the city’s much-delayed new airport will open its doors to customers.
The latest update was given last month, when the chairman of the Hamad International Airport (HIA) steering committee, Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al-Noaimi, said that the airport was “on track for a phased opening by mid-year 2014.”
He emphasized that the delay was not related to safety or security problems, but was in fact due to issues with contractors, adding that the airport’s premium lounges “still need some work.”
Speaking today, Al Baker told journalists that the A350 event had been “a unique glimpse into the exciting developments around the corner” for the new airport’s air traffic and ground control staff.