Qatar Airways decided to drop its order for the A350-800 in favour of the larger XWB variants mainly because of the delay to the production plan, says chief executive Akbar Al Baker.
The Doha-based carrier had originally been launch customer for the -800 - as it is for the -900 and -1000 - but revealed last month that it is executing the clause in its contract that permits it to switch the 20 orders for the smallest variant.
"We had an option in our purchase agreement to switch variants, and because of the delay in the production of the -800 we decided not to wait for it and elected to go for the -900," says Al Baker.
Airbus data shows that three of Qatar's 20 A350-800 orders have been switched to -900s and the remaining 17 to -1000s. The airline's 80-strong A350 order now comprises 43 -900s and 37 -1000s.
In June 2011, Airbus revised the A350-800's production schedule as part of a major programme revamp prompted by the redesign of the -1000 and delays to the baseline -900's development. The -800 officially remains the second variant in the plan, but service-entry was delayed by two years from the second half of 2014 to mid-2016. Although several airlines - including Qatar Airways - have subsequently switched their A350-800 orders to larger variants, Airbus officially remains fully committed to the smallest variant.
Al Baker says that the -900 - which typically seats around 44 more passengers than the -800 but has 400nm (730km) less range - will have "really similar performance" but with better seat-km costs.
He says that in his view Airbus should not continue with the A350-800 as it has little to offer over the larger, more efficient A350-900. "If I were them, I wouldn't [continue with the -800]. Why would I produce something that may not be of great interest to airlines. But from what I hear, they will [continue with the -800]," he says.
Qatar Airways, which will be the first customer to take delivery of an A350, expects to receive its first -900 "by the end of 2014, maybe early 2015", says Al Baker.