Qatar Airways is on track to take delivery of the world's first Airbus A350-1000 jetliner in the second half of this year, but the big new bird is another pointer to the rise of business class at the expense of first class.
Airbus president Fabrice Brégier reiterated the delivery schedule during the company's annual press briefing, held overnight in Toulouse France, with the Gulf airline and Oneworld member standing as the prestigious launch customer for this larger and longer-range version of the A350-900.
However, Qatar Airways has opted not to fit first class into the A350-1000 – leaving the upmarket seats as exclusive to its Airbus A380 superjumbo fleet – and will instead offer its new 'super business class' suites with sliding doors as the jetliner's highest-grade cabin.
And Qatar isn't flying solo: of the nine airlines which have signed on the dotted line for the A350-1000, only two – British Airways and Etihad Airways – are likely to include a first class cabin at the pointy end.
Cathay Pacific has already ruled out first class for its A350-1000 fleet, choosing to mirror Qatar Airways with a much larger premium cabin featuring new international business class seats.
United Airlines is phasing out its 'Global First' offering in favour of the new Polaris business class, while Asiana Airlines – like Qatar Airways – intends to retain first class only on its flagship Airbus A380 fleet.
(The wild card is an order of 29 jets from Air Lease Corporation, which has leasing agreements with over 80 airlines who can then configure the aircraft as they choose.)
The A350-1000 will carry an estimated 366 passengers in a three-class layout compared to around 325 passengers in the A350-900, although that of course depends on how each airline configures its cabins.
While sales of the Airbus A380 superjumbo have stalled, the double-deck aircraft is becoming a more likely choice for airlines wanting to not only offer a first class cabin but tempt travellers with something that's well above the business class experience.
Singapore Airlines and Emirates set the standard with their A380 suites, while Etihad Airways raised the bar with its spacious first class Apartments.
The Singaporean flag-carrier plans to reduce the number of A380 suites from 12 berths to between six and eight, but they'll be much larger and could move to the upper deck; for his part, Emirates CEO Tim Clark has teased his airline's new suites as "fully enclosed rooms with all the touches and amenities that you’d expect in hotel or a private bedroom on a luxury yacht, room service and so on."