Friday the 13th is supposed to be bad luck for everyone, but it was Sunday the 13th that brought bad news to Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY). That was the day Qatar Airways tried to show off one of its shiny new Airbus A350 widebody jets in the plane's inaugural U.S. flight. But the attempt nearly ended in disaster.
As reported on Yahoo! Finance, everything started out A-OK for the Qatari A350, as it rocketed down the runway at JFK, preparing to launch into a 12-hour trip to Qatar's Hamad International Airport. Instead, about 18 seconds into its takeoff run, the plane suddenly, unexpectedly, and automatically slammed on its brakes of its own volition, bringing the plane to a "startling and screeching halt."
Frightened and confused (but fortunately uninjured passengers) understandably wanted to deplane after the incident, but QA flight staff instructed them to remain in their seats. The plane eventually turned around, tried again, and took off successfully -- two hours later.
Does it matter?
Doubtless, this was not the flawless exhibition that either Qatar Airways or Airbus had hoped for. But it probably doesn't spell doom for the new airplane, either.
Initial analysis of the incident suggests that the A350's onboard computers inexplicably decided for themselves that JFK's 11,000-foot runway was too short to permit a takeoff. That was obviously incorrect, as the plane did eventually take off. This suggests that what we're looking at here is a software glitch rather than a design flaw, and a glitch that is probably easily fixed.
Granted, there's certainly a risk that this or other troubles not yet seen will crop up as Airbus rolls out its A350 deliveries. To date, only 11 out of 775 aircraft ordered by Airbus customers have been delivered, so there will be plenty of other opportunities for Airbus to stumble and for investors (and passengers) to become frightened. And, yes, if the problems get too frequent and generate too much negative publicity, there's a risk this will result in some order cancellations.
Remember, though, that Boeing (NYSE:BA) had plenty of troubles itself with rolling out its 787 Dreamliner. That didn't prevent it from collecting orders for 1,142 units of the aircraft, however, or from delivering 354 of them. And if you haven't noticed, customer complaints have been few and far between since the initial months of the rollout.
My guess is that, just like Boeing with its marquee plane, Airbus will come through this just fine, and A350s will be filling the skies in no time.