Farnborough, England: Airbus unveiled its first customer for the beefed up version of its A350-1000 widebody plane on the second day of the Farnborough Airshow as Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific said it planned to place an order worth up to $4.2 billion (Dh15 billion) at list prices.

Since announcing bigger Rolls-Royce engines and pushing back the development of the jet by two years at last year’s air show in Paris, Airbus has failed to win any customers for the revamped version of the carbon-composite plane.

Airbus says the future 350-seat passenger jet will be much more efficient than Boeing’s 777 but has so far been unable to make a significant dent in the 777’s hold on a lucrative corner of the jet market, just below 400 seats.

Cathay on Tuesday broke the drought, saying it plans to order ten A350-1000 jets and convert 16 of the 36 A350-900 jets it already has on order to the new model, the two firms said.

The deal comes after a slow start to the airshow, the industry’s showcase event, for Airbus. Boeing on Monday announced an order worth up to $7.2 billion and followed that on Tuesday with commitments for 100 737 planes from GE Capital Aviation Services.

Cathay said the Airbus deal still had to be approved by its board at a meeting in August.


Cathay CEO John Slosar said he was confident Airbus was doing all it could to avoid further delaying the entry into service of the A350-1000, but that Cathay had contingencies in place.

“There’s always a risk with new technologies,” Slosar said. “We have a reasonable sized fleet still of 747s, of which we can slow down the retirement or even speed up, based on when aircraft are coming.”

Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said the company had learned its lesson on programme delays and vowed to avoid the kind of slippage that has resulted in customers like Etihad cancelling orders.

“We would prefer to delay by a couple of weeks, instead of rushing and then discovering problems later. This is the biggest lesson we have learned,” he said, adding that the A350-1000 would move to first flight next year.

The $320 million jet is due to enter service in mid-2017. Cathay’s planes are due to arrive in 2018. The A350-900s that it has on order are scheduled for delivery in 2016.

The A350-1000s are worth $3.2 billion at list prices, while the upgrades are worth a further $1 billion.