SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Airbus SE’s (AIR.PA) talks with Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) about a plane that can fly 20 hours non-stop from Sydney to London are centered around the A350-900ULR rather than reviving a shorter A350 variant, an executive at the manufacturer said on Thursday.
The comments by Airbus’s Iain Grant, head of sales for the Pacific region, could quash industry speculation the European planemaker may revive the smaller A350-800, which had been put on ice after poor sales.
Qantas had publicly challenged Airbus and its U.S. rival Boeing Co (BA.N) in August to boost the range of the A350 and 777X models to allow it to complete “the last frontier” of commercial flying by 2022.
The speculation about the A350-800 revival arose after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told industry publication Flightglobal this week that Airbus was “saying they may” consider a shorter-fuselage variant if the A350-900ULR (ultra long range) could not meet mission requirements.
Airbus’s Grant, however, said at a media briefing on Thursday that talks with Qantas remained about the A350-900ULR, the same variant that Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) will receive next year to restart non-stop Singapore-New York flights.
“We are bringing in our A350-900ULR which is going to do the Sydney-London mission and we are very comfortable with that and we will continue to work with them to meet their requirements,” he said of the Qantas challenge.
A non-stop Sydney-London route that is three hours shorter than current flights involving stops would allow Qantas to charge a premium and differentiate its product from the around two dozen other airlines plying the so-called Kangaroo route with stop-offs in Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong.
In a speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on Monday, Joyce said both manufacturers had reacted positively, but the ability to fly the aircraft with a full commercial load remained a stretch. Qantas has said 300 seats would be ideal to give it the highest possible revenue and fleet flexibility.
“The aircraft can do it today, both the 777 and the A350, but we believe it can’t do it with full payload,” he said, according to an audio recording posted on the organization’s website. “We do believe that more work is needed on both aircraft to get it there.”
Joyce in August said the airline expected to evaluate the A350 and 777X for 12 months before issuing a formal tender for an order, with the number of aircraft having not yet been decided.
A Qantas spokesman declined to comment further.
Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman