NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Qatar Airways is taking delivery of showy new Airbus widebodies and flying them straight into the heart of Europe, one more sign that the Middle East airlines are aggressively challenging the western world's airline establishment.
State-owned Qatar is the global launch customer for the new Airbus A350 XWB. Last week, its first airplane completed a successful test flight. That plane will be delivered to the carrier later this year.
Qatar said on Monday its first use of the A350 will be on the Doha-Frankfurt route, where it plans two daily frequencies. Qatar said it chose Frankfurt as its first destination because of the A350's "significant capacity."
That's good because Frankfurt obviously was not selected in order to take advantage of the 283-seat A350-900's long range capability of 7,750 miles. Doha-Frankfurt is just 2,855 miles. "The route is underutilizing the capability of the airplane," said aerospace consultant Scott Hamilton of Leeham Co.
Added aviation consultant Robert Mann: "One of the problems with new airplanes is that airlines often buy far greater capabilities than most of them will ever use."
Earlier this month, Qatar began Doha-London service with its first A380, seating 515 passengers. Qatar has orders for 12 additional A380s.
Heathrow and Frankfurt, Europe's two leading airports, "are where the revenue is," Mann said. "If you're going to go fishing, go where the big fish are.
"Qatar is not reluctant to put its best foot forward and drain the pool of revenue," he added.
Maybe the hype for the A350 hasn't been quite as ambitious as it was for Boeing's (BA - Get Report) 787 Dreamliner, but the airplane clearly marks the continuing evolution of widebody technology. Airbus said that the aircraft offers 25% less fuel burn than comparable airplanes and that 53% of it is built with composites. Hamilton said the A350 "has already had a major impact on Boeing, forcing it to do better than the 777 classic.
"The A350 is going to be a good airplane," Hamilton added. Airbus has 750 A350 orders from 39 airlines, led by Qatar with 80, Singapore with 70, Etihad with 62 and Cathay Pacific with 46.
Among U.S. airlines, United (UAL - Get Report) has 35 orders, while American (AAL) has inherited 22 orders from US Airways, which operates the world's largest Airbus fleet. American will become the U.S. launch customer for the A350-900, with deliveries starting in 2017. United will be the launch customer for the A350-1000, with deliveries starting in 2018.
Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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