The Airbus A350-900 makes its first full international air show debut here at Singapore as questions continue to grow over the future of its planned smaller sibling, the A350-800.

With an increasing number of A350-800 customers switching to the larger -900, the firm backlog for the shorter variant now stands at just 46, from six customers. In the latest Airbus monthly orders and deliveries report for January, the company reveals lessor ILFC and Libyan Airlines are the latest defectors to switch. ILFC changed its remaining six A350-800s while Libyan did the same for its remaining four aircraft.

Airbus acknowledges it is slowly moving away from the current layout of the Airbus A350-800 and is considering changes that would make the aircraft larger and likely more economical to operate. It is a “distinct possibility” that Airbus might make the smallest of the three A350 versions larger than planned today, according to chief operating officer of customers John Leahy. The change would convert the -800, currently configured to seat 276, to a 300-seater, putting it “right on top of the [Boeing] 787-9,” he adds. If that decision is made, entry into service for the -800 is expected to shift from 2016, which is still the official date, to around 2020.

The potential change comes as MSN3 takes a break from its grueling test schedule, which, in recent weeks, has seen it operate from one extreme environment to another. The test campaign has so far included cold weather evaluation in the freezing climate of northern Canada, stifling humidity on the Caribbean island of Martinique and high-altitude performance work at over 13,000 ft in the thin air of Bolivia. The aircraft arrived in Singapore in the early hours of February 8 and will participate in the flying display on February 11 and 12.

The aircraft arrived here from the Middle East, where it made the A350’s premier appearance at Doha’s new Hamad International Airport. The visit formed part of the entry-into-service preparations for A350 XWB launch customer Qatar Airways, which is scheduled to take its initial delivery in the fourth quarter of this year.