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Qatar Air Says Airbus Dropping Smallest A350

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Qatar Airways cast doubt on the future of the Airbus A350-800 on Wednesday, saying the European plane maker had decided to pour all its efforts into two larger variants.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker, who recently cancelled an order for the A350-800 and upgraded orders for sister models, said the 270-seater would not appear in service.

"They (Airbus) are not going to make the -800. This is what they told us," he told reporters at a trade fair.

Airbus said it was sticking by the USD$254 million model.

"The A350-800 is a key member of our next-generation A350 family," spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said.

Airbus had 92 A350-800 aircraft on its order book at the end of January, compared with 395 for the 314-seat A350-900, the main variant which is also scheduled to be the first to enter service in late 2014.

Airbus has also sold 105 of its 350-seat A350-1000, a 350-seat long-haul jet expected to enter service in 2017.

Aircraft experts say the trend is towards larger planes within certain size categories to cope with increased traffic.

Airlines can fly larger planes more cheaply if they can fill them -- but have to balance this against the risk of leaving empty seats while the larger plane consumes more fuel.

Al Baker joins a growing number of industry officials who have expressed doubts over the future of the A350-800, which in design terms is a "shrink" of the benchmark A350-900.

Until now, industry sources have reported little evidence that the A350-800 will be cancelled outright but many have questioned when it will enter service as Airbus focuses engineering efforts on the larger, more strategic versions.

The A350-800 is officially due to enter service in 2016.

Airbus is considering ways of increasing planned A350 production in order to boost sales of the A350-1000, which had a slow start until picking up further endorsements from Qatar Airways and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific in the past year.

(Reuters)

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