One giant tail gives scale to the A350 assembly line opening: Airbus photo

It is hard, from afar, to work out which new jet would have caused the most interest to the world’s airlines at Toulouse overnight.

A sharklet fitted Airbus A321 flew in from the other major Airbus factory at Hamburg on its first flight, which is ‘new’ as in ‘renew’ in that it is the first physical step toward transforming the largest version of the A320 family with new technology engines that will play a huge role in reducing emissions and noise from the middle of this decade.

And in a major ceremonial occasion, the final assembly line for the Airbus A350, an all new mid sized wide-body jet, was named and inaugurated, with the freshly liveried tail of the first of the type to fly next year present to add scale to the event.

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But also present was the man for whom the A350 facility was named, Roger Béteille, who is not only one of the four founding fathers of the original Airbus Industrie, but if measured by either airliners made or by the innovations that made them successful, is one of the most influential aero engineers of the 20th century.

It was an extraordinary event, especially for those of us who saw Airbus begin, and never imagined on our first visits to Toulouse, what the enterprise would become.

The A321 with its sharklet efficiency wingtips fitted: Airbus photo

The A321 with sharklets and, soon, its new technology engines as the A321 NEO, is approximately 25% larger in capacity than the A320, which is by far the most flown member of the single aisle family.  But air transport is growing, less so in the mature markets of North America and Europe, yet much more so the Asia Pacific and central Asia.

Thus the A321 is flying toward that future, and by 2020 may easily be the largest part of new single aisle sales for Airbus, just as the Boeing 737 MAX 9 is headed toward being its comparably sized airliner for the emerging realities of strong new markets and the pressing need for lower seat kilometre unit costs in any contested market.

The sales experience of both Airbus and Boeing at this stage appears to be even more focused on this highly profitable single aisle category than the longer haul wide body markets, in which the A350 will meet the Boeing 777 and no doubt a 777-X family, as well as compete in various forms with the 787-9 and when or if its launched, a 787-10 Dreamliner.

It was a day that brought all of these elements, plus human ingenuity and persistence together, giving airlines, analysts and observers of the industry much to think about.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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