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“Seriously outstanding”, “very impressive” and “an incredibly competitive aircraft” – that was some of the praise which Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti showered on the Airbus A350 as he toured the advanced jet on its whistle-stop visit to Sydney this week.
Airbus finds itself in a familiar tussle with Boeing over which company will win the order for Virgin’s fleet beyond 2017 to replace the airline’s existing Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 jets.
Borghetti has previously talked up both the A350 and the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and in February 2013 told Australian Business Traveller that the Boeing-or-Airbus question would be “more an end-of-year decision”.
“We don’t have to rush into this” Borghetti said.
“We’re talking about fleet composition beyond 2017. Admittedly we have to make a call soon, but we’ve still got a year or so up our sleeves.”
That year-or-so is now all but done, and orders for both birds are piling up, but Borghetti is intent on taking his time to make the right decision – and no doubt land the best discount against the list price, which sits at US$249.5 million for 787-9 Dreamliner and US$295 million for the Airbus A350-900.
And a few sweet words for the A350 is no doubt going to help in that.
“We’ll take our time and make sure we make the right decision, but this (A350) is a very impressive aircraft” Borghetti admitted.
“Our team’s been studying this very carefully, obviously, along with the Boeing aircraft, and from everything we’ve seen on paper certainly (the A350’s) an incredibly competitive aircraft” he told The Australian.
“Whether you’re looking at it from the operating statistics or the customer comfort, I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised.”
The style-savvy CEO also singled out the spacious interior of the A350, which boasts standard 18 inch-wide seats for economy passengers.
“You really don’t think you’re in a tube; you think you’re in a room because you’ve got a flat roof and almost a flat side” he observed.
“It’s very different to what was, of course, the original 350 design. This is outstanding, seriously outstanding.”
Photo tour: Inside the Airbus A350 test aircraft
Signing what would on the face of things be a multi-billion dollar cheque for flash new planes might seem at odds with an expected $200m+ pre-tax loss for the 2013-2014 financial year which Virgin is tipped to report later this month.
But with the need to plan ahead for the next generation of Virgin’s fleet, and the cost savings on fuel and maintenance for these new jets, it could be an easy argument to make that Virgin is investing its way back into the black.
Read: Airbus A350 takes flight
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