ISTANBUL–Airbus Chief Operating Officer-Customers John Leahy says he is not convinced Airbus may have to stretch the A350 further beyond the -1000 version. “It is not obvious to me that we need 35 more seats,” Leahy said in an interview here at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) Europe conference in Istanbul.

Leahy claims that Boeing’s main motivation to stretch the Boeing 777-9X—compared with the Boeing 777300ER—was to reduce unit costs rather than real market demand for a 400-seater. He also argues that the -1000 will have a 15% trip cost advantage over the -9X. “I don’t know that I want to give that up. The added seats will be marginal,” he said, referring to the low fares for which he believes the capacity can be sold. “I think we might be better off staying where we are.”

Some observers have argued that Airbus would have to build a larger version of the A350 to be able to compete with the largest Boeing twin.

Leahy is more concerned that Airbus may not deliver as many A350s as the potential demand for the aircraft, because of its conservative production ramp-up. “We are being prudent, but it bothers me,” he said. However, he indicated that Airbus might soon decide to produce at higher rates. “I believe this will be decided sometime next year,” he said. Airbus is currently moving from a rate of two to three per month, a move it plans to complete by year-end. By the end of 2015, Airbus plans to build five A350s per month, but output will be expanded to 10 aircraft per month by 2018.

Airbus is currently waiting “for the certification papers any day now.” The first aircraft is to be delivered to Qatar Airways before the end of the year.

While the A350 program is being ramped up, Airbus faces challenges in keeping A330 production high as it transitions from the current version of the aircraft to the A330neo. The aircraft is now produced at a rate of 10 per month; UBS analysts have recently suggested that production should drop to 40 per year in 2018 (Aviation DAILY, Sept. 18). 

Leahy, however, contends Airbus will make decisions regarding A330 production on a year-by-year basis. Production will be much higher “if we get a big regional order out of China,” he noted. Airbus has been pitching the A330 as an aircraft for Chinese domestic routes, but has yet not received the larger orders expected. Airbus has offered to build a completion center for the A330 at its Tianjin plant, “but we need a certain number of aircraft committed.”