- Airbus has made incremental developments to the A350, including the introduction of new winglets that offer aerodynamic improvements.
- The new winglets are taller and squarer in their curvature compared to the initial design, and they complement a new wing design for the A350. This results in a wider spanload and lower total drag.
- It is difficult to determine which A350s have the old or new winglets from an official standpoint, but it is safe to say that the majority of A350s now have the updated design.
Let’s say that you’re sitting at an airport gate looking out at all the big jets parked on the apron. Because you’re already familiar with the basics of planespotting and aircraft identification, you see that two Airbus A350s are parked side by side. To your knowledge, there is only the A350-900 and the A350-1000, but the jets you see are both -900s. With no updated ‘neo’ type variants yet to be announced, it seems odd that the two A350s in front of you have different winglets. Why might this be?
Assembly of the very first Airbus A350 prototype was completed at the end of 2012. In 2013, the Airbus widebody had its first flight, while its first revenue service took place in 2015 with Qatar Airways. Thus, the type is nearing a decade of service.
The big planemakers, Boeing and Airbus, upgrade their jets periodically, without giving them new names or designations. Indeed, Airbus has increased the maximum take-off weight of some of its aircraft over the years. For example, later A330-900s have a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 251 metric tonnes, up from the 242 metric tonnes of earlier examples. You might also know that the earliest Boeing 787s are a few tonnes heavier than current production models. Since those particular jets were difficult to sell off, many dubbed this set of Dreamliners the “terrible teens.”
On technical data sheets and legal documents, these types of important changes are certainly noted. However, to the public, the model name is still simply listed as an “Airbus A330-900” or “Boeing 787-8.” It’s the same case with older and newer Airbus A350s, as the European planemaker made some interesting changes in 2017. One of those more noticeable adjustments was the jet’s winglets.
An incremental development
It was back in 2017 that the aviation news site Leeham News & Analysis (LNA) exclusively revealed that Airbus was working on new winglets for the A350. On October 20th, 2017, the X (formerly Twitter) user known as Aviation Toulouse posted a photo of an updated A350 (embedded below). Shortly after, new images and an in-depth analysis of the new devices were published by LNA.
Months later, FlightGlobal reported that Airbus had introduced larger winglets which offered several aerodynamic improvements and “huge benefits.” Simply put, the new winglets expand the aircraft’s effective wingspan without increasing its geometric wingspan. Speaking with A350 marketing director Francois Obe in 2018, it was noted that Airbus had planned to introduce a package of “incremental developments” in 2020, but this process was expedited.
“With the aircraft being better than we have expected in service… we will be able to deliver some of [the new developments] in 2018…We needed to be sure the aircraft structure was good enough to sustain the additional weight, and it is the case,” -Francois Obe, A350 Marketing Director, Airbus
So, how do the old and new winglets differ from one another? Well, as highlighted by LNA, the new winglets are taller and also “squarer” in their curvature than the initial design. This new design wasn’t a standalone change. Rather, the new wingtip was meant to complement a new wing design for the A350. As highlighted and analyzed by LNA, the revised design of a new wingtip and wing results in a wider ‘spanload,’ resulting in lower total drag.
Which airframes have old or new winglets?
As you can imagine, aircraft manufacturers tend to be fairly low-key about some of these small improvements, opting to avoid a roll-out ceremony or even a media statement. As a result, it’s a little more difficult to tell, from an official sense, which A350 was the first to sport the new wing and winglets.
However, we can say that LNA noted in its 2017 piece that the new wing and winglet would “be ready for the rollout of the first Singapore Airlines A350-900URL [in 2018].” It added that this update will “find its way to the standard A350-900 and -1000.” A contributor on the popular forum Airliners.net echoes this, stating that the larger winglet was originally part of the A350-900ULR study.
If this is the case, then all A350 with Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) 216 and above have the new winglet design. Conversely, MSNs 215 and lower have the original design. The production list from Planespotters.net shows that the Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900ULR registered 9V-SGE is the airframe with MSN 216. Considering the fact that five years have passed since the first -900ULR was delivered and that A350 MSNs are now over 620, it’s safe to say that the majority of A350s sport the updated design. Thus, it’s perhaps more effective to list some of the early operators of the type, which would undoubtedly be operating airframes with older winglets. In order of first deliveries (lowest MSNs), these are:
- Qatar Airways
- Vietnam Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- Singapore Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Thai Airways
- Lufthansa, and more…
It might still be hard to tell…
For those who are less experienced in planespotting, it might be difficult to tell whether an A350 has new or old winglets. After all, it’s not as drastic a change as the A330-300 to A330-900. Indeed, a subtle difference like this is most noticeable when the old and new designs are placed side by side.
Photo: Matheus Obst / Shutterstock
But, at the end of the day, the A350 is still a beautiful machine with beautiful winglets – whether old or new!
Did you know about this A350 design change? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
- Stock Code:
- Business Type:
- Date Founded:
- Guillaume Faury
- Headquarters Location:
- Toulouse, France
- Key Product Lines:
- Airbus A220, Airbus A320, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350, Airbus A380