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New Airbus passenger jet takes to the skies on maiden flight

June 14, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan

European airplane-maker Airbus conducted the first flight of its new A350 XWB passenger jet Friday, just days ahead of the Paris Air Show, the world's premier aviation showcase.

The A350 XWB took off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in southwestern France about 10 a.m. local time, the company said. There were thousands of spectators to watch the massive jet take to the skies.

PHOTOS: 50th International Paris Air Show

The flight lasted four hours and five minutes. The aircraft was flown by Peter Chandler, Airbus’ chief test pilot, with five others onboard. During the flight the crew pushed the A350 XWB’s flight envelope.

The aircraft was accompanied by a chase plane and its progress was monitored on the ground in real-time via direct telemetry.

“I congratulate the whole A350 XWB development team for having completed the first flight preparation in a record time,” Airbus President and Chief Executive Fabrice Bregier said. “I also wish to thank the first flight crew today for taking this aircraft where it wants to be -- in the sky.”

The plane, which is made largely with lightweight carbon fiber, has been beset by lengthy delays. But in recent months several key tasks have been completed, including flight test instrumentation verification, engine installation and a subsequent intensive phase of ground vibration tests.

Airbus said the A350 XWB has already won 613 firm orders from 33 customers worldwide. The company hopes the jet will be ready for entry into service in the second half of 2014.

The A350 XWB seats 270 to 350 passengers in typical three-class layouts. Airbus listed the jet's price at $254.3 million to $332.1 million, depending on the version ordered.

Many companies in California supply on the A350 XWB program, including UTC Aerospace Systems in Chula Vista and its Aerostructures unit, which makes nacelles for the aircraft. A nacelle is the structure that surrounds the aircraft engine that helps improve fuel savings, reduce noise and assist in stopping the aircraft upon landing.

“The A350 XWB program has been precedent-setting for Aerostructures in many ways,” said Marc Duvall, company president. “It is the largest nacelle system we’ve ever designed and built.”

Airbus executives want the new jet to make a big splash at the Paris Air Show, which begins Monday and runs through June 23.

The event is typically an occasion for airlines and aircraft leasing companies to go on buying sprees, announcing orders worth billions of dollars.

The A350 XWB is a direct competitor to rival Boeing Co.’s beleaguered 787 Dreamliner in the long-haul market.

Airbus is looking to cash in after Boeing's misfortune with its 787. That plane was returned to service in May after being grounded for three months in connection with two incidents in less than two weeks in which the plane's lithium-ion batteries were found to be overheating.

Since then, investigators have examined the 787's battery design and certification process, but the root cause remains a mystery.

Airbus had planned to use lithium-ion batteries on the A350 XWB to save weight and therefore fuel. But the company switched to more traditional nickel cadmium batteries for the new jet when Boeing's problems began making headlines.

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