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Airbus eyes new jet's maiden flight with Paris show a month away

May 14, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan
  • It took less than seven days to complete painting on the initial A350 XWB, which showed off its fresh coat in Toulouse, France.
It took less than seven days to complete painting on the initial A350 XWB,… (Airbus )

With the Paris Air Show just one month away, European plane-maker Airbus got one step closer to the first flight of its new A350 XWB passenger jet, rolling out one of the aircraft from its paint shop in Toulouse, France.

Company executives want the new jet to make a big splash at the world's premier aviation showcase. The wide-body plane is a direct competitor to rival Boeing Co.’s beleaguered 787 Dreamliner in the long-haul market.

The Paris Air Show is where airlines and aircraft leasing companies go on buying sprees, announcing orders worth billions of dollars. It's held every other year.

The A350 XWB, which is made largely with lightweight carbon fiber, has been beset by 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 has been ambiguous about when exactly it plans to conduct the plane's first flight.

In an earnings call with reporters Tuesday, executives with the company's parent, European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co., said the A350 XWB's maiden flight is expected to take place by summer. 

The Paris Air Show is set to run from June 17 to 23.

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

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

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

Airbus had planned on using lithium-ion batteries on the A350 XWB because it saved weight and therefore produced fuel savings, but the company switched to more traditional nickel cadmium batteries when Boeing's problems began making headlines.

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