Airbus A350 has maiden flight

Airbus’s new A350 wide-body returned from its maiden flight after a four-hour airborne test of the long-range airliner, in a show of confidence that the jet can enter service in late 2014 and challenge Boeing Co.

Two test pilots and four engineers returned the A350 to the airfield at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, southwestern France, shortly after 2 p.m., after they had performed the first flight under the gaze of 12,000 spectators that included workers, journalists and senior management.

The plane, which cost about $14 billion to develop, is aimed at competing with Boeing’s two best-selling wide-body models, the new 787 Dreamliner, and the 20-year-old 777, for which Boeing is now promising a successor model, the 777X. The first flight came days ahead of the Paris Air Show, the annual showdown between the two manufacturers.

“It was an impressive sight,” said Airbus sales chief John Leahy after the plane had taken off at 10 a.m.. “I knew it was going to be impressive but I was blown away. Did you hear how quiet it was? People living around airports won’t even know we’re taking off.”

At stake is the leadership in twin-aisle planes, the workhorses of intercontinental flying that Boeing pioneered and in which it remains dominant. The A350-900, the first variant of three planes in development, will be followed by a stretched version in 2017 to challenge Boeing’s 777, as well as a smaller variant, the A350-800 competing with a smaller Dreamliner.

The first flight was witnessed by Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier and A350 program Director Didier Evrard, as well as Tom Enders, the CEO of Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence &Space Co. Weather in southern France was lightly clouded, and the A350, painted in Airbus livery on a white fuselage, was escorted by smaller aircraft, with its undercarriage exposed as it disappeared into the sky.

Airbus employees waving blue and white flags gathered by the runway, with local residents standing in fields among the tall grass along the taxiway to get a view of the plane. The A350 will be the last all-new aircraft that Airbus showcases in at least a decade, as both manufacturers will spend the next years tweaking their existing line-up for fuel efficiency.

The aircraft that took off today is one of five test airliners that Airbus will manufacture ahead of serial production next year. Even before today, the A350 had logged 2,800 test hours in a simulator, and about 3,000 hours in the so-called iron bird, a mock-up of the main systems.

“No matter what simulation you do, you need to make it real,” said Evrard, the program director.

More in Herald Business Journal

Delta’s farewell tour for the Boeing 747 stops in Everett

It is the last domestic airline to retire the iconic plane. Boeing and Delta employees autographed it.

Sign of the future: Snohomish business aims to reshape industry

Manifest Signs owner thinks that smart signs is an unexplored and untapped part of his industry.

Boeing says Bombardier dumping puts 737 planes in jeopardy

“If you don’t level the playing field now, it will be too late.”

Snohomish County’s campaign to land the 797 takes off

Executive Dave Somers announced the formation of a task force to urge Boeing to build the plane here.

A decade after the recession, pain and fear linger

No matter how good things are now, it’s impossible to forget how the collapse affected people.

Panel: Motorcycle industry in deep trouble and needs help

They have failed to increase sales by making new riders out of women, minorities and millennials.

Costco rises as results display big-box retailer’s resiliency

Their model has worked in the face of heightened competition from online, brick-and-mortar peers.

Tax reform needs the public’s input on spending priorities

The GOP tax plan is a good idea, but the next step should give us a voice on how taxes are spent.

Under cloud of ethics probes, Airbus CEO Enders to step down

He leaves in 2019 after 14 years. Meanwhile, aircraft division CEO Fabrice Bregier leaves in February.

Most Read