Qatar Airways has upgraded an order for Airbus A350 aircraft to larger variants, a move that includes new backing for a model designed to compete with Boeing's 777.
Airbus announced the move as the influential Gulf carrier said it preferred the two largest models of the A350 for its business model, confirming a trend towards more seats to cope with regular increases in passenger traffic.
The A350 comes in three models - the two smallest compete with Boeing's 787 while the largest, the 350-seat A350-1000, aims for a crucial niche currently dominated by the 777.
Many experts see the lucrative market for jets just below 400 seats as the next major battleground between the world's plane makers. Boeing is looking at revamping its 777 design.
Airbus said Qatar Airways had upgraded its order for the largest A350-1000 variant to 37 planes from 20 and increased its order for the base model, the A350-900, by three planes to 43.
However these are not net new orders, since the same airline has converted an order for the A350-800, the smallest variant which faces speculation about its future due to weak sales.
The upgraded order will net Airbus an extra USD$2.8 billion at list prices. In volume, Qatar's A350 order remains at 80 units.
Qatar Airways is the launch customer for the future A350 and is also a major user of the 777.