Capacity is everything in commercial aviation. The more people and cargo you can pack onto a single plane, the more money there is to be made on every flight. So it’s no surprise that Airbus has been working for years on one of the largest commercial airliners the world has ever seen: the A350-1000. Much to their delight, Airbus just delivered the very first A350-1000 to its biggest customer.
Qatar Airways is Airbus’ number one A350 customer. So it is fitting that the airline ordered 76 of the new aircraft and was the first to take delivery in Toulouse, France. Now Airbus will ramp up manufacturing to fill of the orders.
But what makes this wide-body airliner so special? It capacity. Bear in mind that this jet is 40% bigger than its closest Airbus A350 cousin. Even with the increased capacity, airlines willing to purchase the jet will spend less per pound to carry a heavier payload.
Increased Capacity through Composites
Designing a plane that is 40% bigger but with a cost step change of just 25% sounds counterintuitive to people who do not understand commercial aviation. But to experts in the field, it makes perfect sense. Moreover, it is a target worth pursuing. That’s just what Airbus has done.
They have created a much larger wide-body jet that does not cost nearly as much to operate on a per passenger basis. Rock West Composites, a Utah company that deals in composite materials, says that the secret to the success of the A350-1000 is the composite materials engineers chose to use.
Beginning with the aircraft’s primary structures, engineers selected a carbon fiber prepreg to manufacture fuselage panels, wings, and more. Even fuselage crutches are made with a carbon fiber/epoxy material. Before Airbus ever begins outfitting a plane with its interior components, weight has been reduced considerably.
Inside the Airplane
Engineers didn’t stop with the structural components of the plane when choosing carbon fiber materials. Interior spaces are also heavily focused on composites. For example, the A350-1000 seats in business class are made of composite materials. These are not just any seats, though.
In addition to being both comfortable and roomy, the seats fold down to create lie-flat beds. Couples traveling together can purchase seats side-by-side that, after folding down, can be fully enclosed by a privacy divider that lowers from the ceiling. In some configurations, Qatar Airways is offering quad seats for families traveling together.
Creating such a revolutionary seat would not have been possible if Airbus continued using traditional materials. The seats would have been too heavy, too bulky, and not nearly as comfortable as the composite seats are.
Even with the amazing seats and their privacy enclosure, Airbus has not added a commensurate volume of weight to the A350. In fact, just the use of composite seats has reduced the overall weight-to-capacity ratio of the jet measurably.
Lower Weight and Higher Capacity Means More Profit
So, where does all of this lead? It means higher profits to companies waiting for their own A350-1000 deliveries. Lower weight plus higher capacity means more profit. It is as simple as that.
In commercial aviation, capacity is the name of the game. Higher capacity equals higher density from destination to destination. And as long as aerospace manufacturers can increase capacity and still maintain a lower step change in costs, they will continue to make bigger planes that airlines like Qatar Airways desperately want to purchase.
Both Airbus and Qatar Airways can thank the composites industry for making the A350-1000 a reality. Without composites, delivery of the first A350-1000 would never have happened.