The flight marks a key step on the path to full certification for the jet, which can carry between 250 and 400 passengers and is the European aircraft-maker’s best hope for catching up in a long-haul market dominated by Boeing’s 777 and the 787, known as the Dreamliner.
“At the end of the day you need to make it real, and this is the time for making it real. So I am very proud already,” Didier Evrard, head of the A350 program, said while watching the flight.
“But I will be still nervous until it comes back.”
Airspace over Toulouse, where Airbus has its headquarters, closed for both take-off and landing. With distinctive, upturned wing tips, the plane had a great big “A350” painted across its belly, heightening anticipation that it will fly at the Paris Air Show next week.
The plane’s undercarriage remained down for the first part of the flight, so that they could run through a series of checks and ensure it was ready for the full flight.
Airbus has 613 orders for the A350, and hopes the flight will bring it momentum heading into the Paris Air Show, which is already shaping up as a battle of the wide-body planes.
“There is a lot of money at stake, a lot of employment at stake. This is an extremely important political, social and economic issue,” said Gerald Feldzer, a French aviation expert and former airline pilot.
Airbus’ potential customers, the world’s airlines, have all been squeezed by high aviation fuel costs and a fall in passengers because of the struggling world economy. Carriers are therefore looking for ways to run their fleets more cost-effectively.
More than half of the twin-engine A350 consists of lightweight carbon-fiber designed to save on jet fuel, which makes up half the cost of long-haul flights.<< previous 1 2 3 4 next >>