The Airbus A350 is a twinjet, twin-aisle jetliner with retractable landing gear. It represents Airbus’ decade-long journey to produce a competitor to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the 777. Airbus claims the A350 will efficiently fly anything from short-haul to ultra-long-haul routes, but most airlines use it for medium and long-haul flights.
The retirement of the A380 jumbo jet means that the A350 is now the largest aircraft in the Airbus fleet. The end of the A380 program will also funnel sales over to the A350, improving on its already moderate success.
Inception and Proposed Design
In 2001, Airbus witnessed the launch of Boeing’s new widebody jetliner the 787 Dreamliner. Boeing had focused on increasing fuel efficiency and reducing operating costs over the previous model. If Boeing achieved their goals, it would put the sales of the A330 in jeopardy.
Airbus decided that the 787 Dreamliner was a response to the A330 and required no reaction of their own. Airlines were pressuring the company to produce a competing aircraft to no avail. However, once Boeing revealed that the new aircraft would be 20% more fuel-efficient than the current model, the attitude at Airbus changed.
Airbus initially planned to produce a redesign of the A330 to keep development costs low. The new model would feature the same engines as the 787 and better aerodynamics. Airbus called this variant the A330-200 Lite and was set to feature it at the Farnborough Airshow in 2004.
There would be no announcement regarding a competitor for the 787 Dreamliner at the airshow. Airbus axed the project after it concluded that there wasn’t enough interest in the project. Later in the year, Airbus commissioned its $5 billion (€4 billion*) project to produce a competitor for the 787 Dreamliner.
The new aircraft was designated the Airbus A350 and shared a common fuselage with the A330.
Changes included a newly designed horizontal stabilizer and wings, which would be mostly made from Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP). Airbus and General Electric agreed that the A350 would be the launch platform for its new high-efficiency GEnx-1A-72 engines.
Airbus planned for two variants of the aircraft, the A350-800, and A350-900. The A350-800 would’ve seated 245 passengers in a three-class configuration and would carry them more than 8,500 nm (15,900 km). Similarly, in a three-class configuration, the A350-900 would carry 285 passengers over a distance of 7,500 nm (13,900 km).
However, the new design was enough to attract an order of 60 aircraft from Qatar Airways, as a whole the aviation community criticized the design of the A350. The fuselage cross-section was dated, as was the shape of the wings. The lack of innovation dissuaded other airlines such as Emirates from placing orders for the A350.
Steven Udvar-Hazy, CEO of the International Lease Finance Corp (ILFC) which is the second-largest airplane-leasing company called for the current A350 to be scrapped and for Airbus to start with a clean sheet design. He stated that Airbus should design an “aircraft that will be the backbone of their wide-body midsize product line for the next 20 to 25 years.”
Udvar-Hazy went as far as to call Airbus’ efforts a “band-aid reaction to the 787” and stressed that the new aircraft should have “residual value”. Henry A. Hubschman, the president of General Electric Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) which is another titan in the aircraft leasing market, echoed these sentiments.
These criticisms and concerns over the viability and longevity of the A350 did not fall on deaf ears at Airbus. On July 14th, 2006, Airbus revealed the newly designed A350.
See also: Airbus vs Boeing Fleet Comparison
The new aircraft was a result of a clean sheet build and an estimated development cost of around $15 billion (€12 billion) which was three times the original budget. Airbus designated it the A350 Xtra-WideBody (XWB). The name came from the wider fuselage cross-section which allowed up to 10 abreast seating in the maximum occupancy configuration. In comparison, the previous design only allowed for a maximum of 8 abreast seating with the 18.5” seats.
Airbus wanted the A350 to be as efficient as possible. This meant keeping the empty weight as low as possible. To this end, Airbus planned to manufacture the majority of the A350 with carbon fiber panels. However, airlines pushed back stating that the design would cause exorbitant maintenance costs.
Airbus had previously referred to Boeing’s use of composite materials on the 787 as premature. Ironically, Airbus would use composite materials for the construction of the A350 even more than Boeing. Composites make up 53 percent of the A350’s structure, three percent more than the 787. The use of composites on the A350 made it the first large commercial aircraft to be constructed extensively from carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP).
A happy side-effect of using composite materials was the ability of the A350 to handle more pressure. This in turn allowed the cabin pressure to be maintained at 6,000 ft (1829 m) and the humidity at 20 percent. The combination of high cabin pressure and humidity greatly improved the level of comfort passengers would experience. Airbus contracted the BMW group to create an all-new interior for the A350.
The A350 features newly designed wings made mostly of composite materials. The wing sweep was increased to 31.9° to allow the A350 to have a maximum Mach number of 0.89 and a cruise Mach of 0.85. Airbus utilized technology from the A380 to create the Adaptive Dropped Hinge Flap (ADHF) system flaps on the A350. The flaps provided additional lift at the top end of the lift curve which is beneficial to aircraft with long fuselages. Like other Airbus models, the A350 wings would have blended wing tips to limit downwash and reduce induced drag.
The A350’s avionics would be designed and serviced by Thales Group, which won out the 20-year contract by under-bidding both Honeywell and Rockwell Collins. Communication and in-flight equipment on the A350 would be provided by the Panasonic Avionics Corporation (PAC).
After the A350 XWB design was confirmed, AIrbus was left wanting an engine for the A350. General Electric pulled out as a potential engine supplier for the A350 and stated that the previous deal for the usage of its GEnx-1A engines was no longer valid as it did not apply to the XWB design. The company was not willing to offer the A350 with another engine as it would be competing directly with the 777, its other engine customer.
Rolls Royce would step up to the plate and supply Airbus with a new Trent series turbofans designed exclusively for the A350 XWB named the Trent XWB. It is one of the most powerful engines in the Trent series. The most powerful variant the XWB-97 which powers the A350-1000 produces 97,000 lbf (431 kN).
Honeywell’s most powerful auxiliary power unit (APU), the HGT1700, would power the A350 during ground operations, engine ignition, and the air management system. The APU produces close to 1,700 hp and has the capability to produce 100 kVA.
Reaction and Release
The redesigned A350 was released to the public at the 2006 Farnborough International Airshow, and the response to the design was immediately positive. In four days, Singapore Airlines placed an order of 20 aircraft with options for 20 more. Orders soon followed for more A350s from established Airbus customers like Qatar Airways and Emirates.
The A350 XWB would boast 20% lower fuel burn than the 777-300ER, its rival at the time while carrying more passengers which paved the way for its success. The A350 is seeing moderate success since its release and has sold 940 units as of July 2022, and is primed for better sales with the retirement of the A380 fleet.
The table below outlines the specifications for all three variants of the A350 XWB.
|Aluminum & Aluminum Alloys||19%|
|Length||60.54 m (198.62 ft)||66.89 m (219.45 ft)||73.89 m (242.42 ft)|
|Height||17.10 m (56.10 ft)|
|Fuselage Width||5.96 m (19.55 ft)|
|Wingspan||64.75 m (212.43 ft)|
|Wing Area||442 m2 (4,760 ft2)||464 m2 (5,000 ft2)|
|Wheelbase||28.66 m (94.03 ft)||32.48 m (106.58 ft)|
|Wheel Track||10.60 m (34.78 ft)||10.73 m (35.12 ft)|
|Length||45.50 m (149.28 ft)||51.40 m (168.63 ft)||58.03 m (190.39 ft)|
|Height||2.20 m (7.22 ft)|
|Width||5.61 m (18.41 ft)|
|Bulk Hold Volume||11.3 m³ (ft³|
|Hold Capacity||136.6 m³ (4,842 ft³)||172.2 m³ (6,088 ft³)||208.1 m³ (7,352 ft³)|
|Water Volume||N/A||223 m³ (7,861 ft³)||264 m³ (9 337 ft³)|
|Maximum Ramp Weight||259,900 kg (573,000 lbs)||283,900 kg (625,900 lbs)||319,900 kg (705,300 lbs)|
|Maximum Take-Off Weight (Max)||259,000 kg (571,000 lbs)||283,000 kg (623,900 lbs)||318,000 kg (703,200 lbs)|
|Maximum Landing Weight (Max)||193,000 kg (425,500 lbs)||207,000 kg (456,400 lbs)||236,000 kg (520,300 lbs)|
|Maximum Zero Fuel||181,000 kg (399,000 lbs)||195,700 kg (431,400 lbs)||223,000 kg (491,600 lbs)|
|Range||15,270 km (9,488 mi)||15,000 km (8,099 mi)||16,112 km (8,700 nm)|
|Maximum Cruise Speed||510 kts (945 kmph / 587 mph)|
|Cruise Mach Number||0.85|
|Maximum Operating Mach Number||0.89 M|
|Maximum Fuel Capacity||141 000 L (37,248) USG||166 488 L (43,981) USG||164,000 L (43,324 USG)|
|Fuel Burn (Average)||N/A||5,700 kg/hr|
|Fuel Economy||N/A||0.098 km/l (0.20 nm/gal)||0.103 km/l (0.21 nm/gal)|
|Takeoff Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW)||N/A||2,438 m (7,998.59 ft)||2,600 m (8,530.80 ft)|
|Landing Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW)||N/A||1,219 m (3,999.30 ft)||2,000 m (6,561.60 ft)|
|Service Ceiling||13,106 m (43,000 ft)|
|Rated Takeoff Thrust (each)||329.17 kN (74,000 lbf)||387.00 kN (87,000 lbf)||431.48 kN (97,000 lbf)|
|Cabin Altitude||6,000 ft (1,800 m)|
|Occupancy (Typical)||276||300 – 350||350 – 410|
|Flight Deck||Airbus XWB MSN1 Proprietary Flight Deck with Heads Up Display|
|Engine(s)||Two Rolls Royce Trent XWB|
|Auxiliary Power Unit||Honeywell HGT1700|
Airbus A350 Flight Characteristics
The A350 features Airbus’ characteristic fly-by-wire and sidestick controls. The level of automation of the aircraft is designed to reduce pilot workload and reduce fatigue. The aircraft can fly an approach and land automatically once the parameters have been set by the pilots.
The A350-1000 features a brand new emergency descent function that will activate in the event of a cabin depressurization. The system will initiate descent to 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and if the pilots don’t react to the alerts, the system will notify ATC and let them know that the pilots are incapacitated.
Airbus A350 Configuration Options
Airbus offers the A350-900 and A350-1000 in two main configurations, however, airlines are deciding on what the interior will look like. Luxury airlines like Emirates might opt to rid an aircraft of economy seats and instead install first or business class pods. The sky’s the limit, excuse the pun.
The two base configurations Airbus offers are the maximum occupancy configuration where the entire aircraft has economy seats. In this configuration, the A350-900 and A350-1000 can carry a total of 440 and 480 passengers, respectively. In a typical three-class configuration the A350-900 can carry between 300 to 350 passengers while the A350-1000 can transport between 350 to 410.
Airbus A350 Price
In July 2022, the sticker price for an Airbus A350-900 is $308.1 million (€306.8 million), while the A350-1000 will set a customer back $355.7 million (€354.2 million).
These prices are for a single aircraft and don’t represent any discount most buyers receive. Airlines and leasing companies often make orders in bulk and receive hefty discounts based on the size of the order and the standing they have with Airbus. In fact, Airbus revealed that the airlines receive discounts of up to 50% off the sticker price.
Prices for the A350 are predicted to rise with inflation and the cost of components. However, the introduction of the newer 777 models should prevent it from exceeding expectations as Airbus will have to keep the pricing competitive to avoid alienating customers.
Airbus A350 Orders and Deliveries
As of July 2022, the A350 family has received a total of 940 orders and delivered a total of 486. The current backlog stands at 454 even though Airbus has been tryi
ng to increase the number of A350s it produces a year, the pandemic and supply chain issues have hindered their efforts.
The table below outlines the orders and deliveries by type.
Qatar Airways is the largest customer of the A350 with a total of 76 units, Singapore Airlines is a close second with 72 units. Emirates follows in third with a total order of 50 aircraft, and fourth is a tie with both Lufthansa and United Airlines ordering 45 aircraft each. Finally, Air France deserves an honorable mention for its purchase of 42 A350s.
Airbus A350 Operational Costs
One of the focuses of the A350 program was the reduction of operational costs for the airlines. The cost breakdown for the A350 is as follows:
Aircraft are seldom bought outright, this is especially true for high-cost jetliners like the A350. IBA states that the value of a brand new Airbus A350-900 is $145.6 million (€140 million) which puts the monthly lease amount at around $720,000 (€717,300). The same company values a brand new A350-1000 at $160 million (€159.4 million), which brings the average monthly lease amount to around $800,000 (€797,000).
The A350 operates with a crew of two pilots and if configured for its maximum occupancy of 480 passengers a minimum of 10 cabin crew.
A captain of an A350 employed by Delta Airlines receives roughly $354 per hour and is allowed a maximum of 1000 flying hours a year according to regulations, which brings the base salary to $354,000 (€352,600) In addition, a first officer is paid $92 per hour and has the same hour cap meaning they earn $92,000 (€91,600) a year basic.
In addition, international pilots are given a stipend for food and stay during international flights and long layovers. The average yearly stipend for an A350 captain is around $30,000 (€29,800) while a first officer makes do with $10,000 (€9,900).
In 2022, a flight attendant for an A350 operated by Air France earns an average of $42,500 (€42,250). This brings the total cabin crew cost per year to $425,000 (422,500).
The insurance costs airlines pay cover their pilots, aircraft, and damage to third parties which includes passenger cargo. However, the amount an airline pays is based on a number of factors and the entire fleet of the airline. It is nearly impossible to estimate a value for insurance for a single A350.
Fuel is by far the largest cost of an airline’s operation, which is why most aircraft built today focus on fuel economy. The A350 burns roughly 5,500 kg/hr (11,000 lbs/hr). A metric tonne of Jet-A1 costs $820 (€816) in July 2022. This means that the hourly fuel cost of an A350 is $4,510 (€4,491).
Flight costs for a flight include navigation and airport fees, meals served aboard the aircraft, and water usage. On average a long-haul flight costs roughly $4,000 (€3,900) an hour.
Airbus A350 Issues and Disputes
In August 2021, Qatar Airways grounded 13 of its A350s citing the fuselage of the aircraft were deteriorating abnormally quickly. The surface and paint were the focus of the issue. The airline claimed that it was not a simple cosmetic issue and that the aircraft’s fuel tanks were more vulnerable to lighting. In November, an additional seven aircraft were grounded.
The problem was first attributed to the high fluctuations in temperature that the Qatari A350s experienced. Soon airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Lufthansa, and Air France all complained of similar degradation, however, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa would only refer to the damage as cosmetic citing no safety issue.
Airbus has since created a task force to identify the issue, however, it would seem that the issue lies with the material of the fuselage itself, as various airlines that use different paint suppliers all issued statements regarding peeling paint. In the meantime, Qatar Airways has filed a lawsuit against Airbus which should reach the courts in 2023.
Airbus A350 Variants
The A350-800 was supposed to be one of the two original variants of the A350 and was intended to supplement the A330-200. However, it never came to be, as Airbus decided the model would encroach on the sales of the A330neo family.
The proposed A350-800 would’ve been the smallest version of the A350. It would be ten frames shorter than the A350-900, with six frames removed in front of the wing and four aft of it. This would reduce the length of the fuselage by 6.44 m (21.13 ft) bringing the total length to 60.54 m (198.62 ft).
The A350-800 was destined to have an MTOW of 259,000 kg (571,000 lbs) and fly a maximum of 8,245 nmi (15,270 km). It would carry a total of 276 passengers in a three-class configuration, and 440 in its maximum configuration. The last claim seems unlikely, but it is the official figure from Airbus.
Airbus predicted that when the A330neo would launch customers of the A350-800 would migrate to either the A330neo or the A350-900. Months after the launch of the A330neo, Airbus announced that the A350-800 had been canceled.
The A350-900 Ultra-Long-Range or ULR was designed to conduct 19-hour flights, which is five hours more than the standard 15 hours. To accomplish this the A350-900ULR has 165,000 L (44,000 USG) fuel tanks versus the usual 141,000 L (37,000 USG) tanks, which is an increase of 24,000 L (6,350 USG).
The increase in fuel tank size brought the 900ULR’s MTOW to 280,000 kg (617,000 lbs), a 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) increase. The range of this variant tops out at 9,700 nm (18,000 km) and is used mainly for non-stop flights. The A350-900ULR currently holds the record for the world’s longest flight during which it flew from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport. The trip of 16,561 km (8,942 nmi) took exactly 17 hours and 52 minutes to complete.
The A350F is the freighter variant of the A350, but Airbus had a cash flow problem when the A350 was being developed so the passenger version was prioritized. Airbus required an injection of cash in the form of an order worth roughly $3 billion (€2.4 billion) or 50 aircraft.
In 2021, roughly six years after initial discussions about the model, the Airbus board greenlighted the freighter projection. The model will use the A350-1000 as a base and have a payload of 109,000 kg (240,300 lbs) and an MTOW of 319,000 kg (703,300 lbs). The 350F will also have a total volume of 695 m3 (24,500 ft3).
Orders from multiple airlines have already been placed and deliveries are expected to begin in 2025.
The ACJ stands for Airbus Corporate Jet. This version of the A350 is based on the A350-900ULR and will be able to fly up to 20,000 (10,800 nmi) non-stop. The German government has spent $1.5 billion (€1.2 billion) to purchase three ACJ350s. It will mainly be used for VIP transport and other state purposes.
The high price tag includes modifications for a VIP cabin and anti-missile and other defense systems. The three aircraft themselves were purchased at a price of $266.66 million (€213.33 million). The aircraft will replace the current A340s the German government uses.
The A350-1000 is the largest variant of the A350 series and the second largest Airbus aircraft. This model is 7 m (23 ft) longer than the base variant due to the addition of 11 frames. Airbus had to increase the surface area of the wings which added more lift to offset the additional weight and length. The longer fuselage and added weight meant that the four-set landing gear of the A350-900 would not suffice, so this variant sports a six-set landing gear.
The A380-1000 features the Rolls Royce Trent XWB-97 which produces 97,000 lbf (431.48 kN). This iteration of the Trent XWB is the most powerful in the Trent family and is the most powerful turbofan Rolls Royce currently produces.
Airbus A350 Competitors
Boeing 787 Variants
The A350 was created in response to the success of the 787 Dreamliner and was designed to outperform the aircraft in every conceivable way possible. The A350-900 and 900ULR models compete with the 787-200LR, while the A350-1000 competes with the 787-300ER.
In both arenas, the A350 wins out on the spec sheet, with the only discrepancy being the range of the A350-900 not matching that of the 787-200LR. However, Airbus has an answer to this problem in the form of the 900ULR, which flies further than the competition.
Both A350s can fly more passengers over the same distance at a lower cost per seat than either of the 787 models. It’s safe to say that Airbus achieved what they were aiming for.
Boeing 777 Variants
The newer Boeing 777-9 and 777-10 variants were designed after the introduction of the A350, and will only hit the skies in 2025, nearly a decade after the A350 was introduced. Yet, the A350 puts up a valiant fight.
The A350-900 and 900ULR compete with the 777-9, while the A350-1000 dukes it out with the 777-9. The fight here is a little more balanced, however, Airbus still wins out in the war of the spec sheets with all three A350 models still outperforming both 777s.
Passenger comfort is a category that the A350 has had little competition in, thanks to its 18.5” wide seats. Boeing has designed the 777X with a fuselage width of 6.20 m, which is 0.24 m wider than the A350’s 5.96 m.
There is no data regarding the actual performance of the 777 as it isn’t in operation, however, the predicted values are close. Boeing and Airbus often overrate their numbers so who wins out is yet to be seen.
Airbus A350 Accidents and Incidents
The A350 XWB was introduced into service with Qatar Airways in 2015. In the seven years since its introduction, no variant of the A350 has had any hull loss, fatalities, or accidents. The aircraft has been involved in 33 incidents, most of which resulted in minor damage to the aircraft in question.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Question: How much more efficient is an A350 vs a Boeing 787 Dreamliner?
Answer: The A350 is around 20 percent more fuel efficient than the B787.
Question: What is the max speed an A350 can reach?
Answer: An A350 has a Maximum Mach of 0.89. However this number is a limitation, and if it is exceeded the aircraft could experience a supersonic stall which is often catastrophic.
Question: How does the price of an A350 compare to that of its competitor?
Answer: Being a technically superior aircraft doesn’t guarantee the A350 sales. Airbus has to price its aircraft competitively to what Boeing is offering, after all, airlines are looking to maximize the bang for their buck.
The most expensive variant of the 787 is priced at $338.4 million and the same variant of the 777 is $442.2 million. The competing models of the A350 are roughly $30 million and $100 million cheaper, respectively.
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