The new Airbus A350 has made its maiden flight from Toulouse this morning.
The A350 is Airbus’ first, ‘new era’ aircraft, built from composite materials (both the fuselage and wing structures are primarily made of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer) to significantly reduce weight and, as a result, fuel consumption. Airbus claims that the aircraft is 25% more fuel efficient than previous, similar competitor models although they are probably referring to the Boeing 767.
There are two variations of the A350, the A350-9 series (the version that flew today) and the slightly larger A350-10 series which isn’t expected to be operational until 2016. The new aircraft will hold between 250-350 passengers and the launch customer is Qatar Airways which has orders and options for some 80 aircraft across the range. All Airbus A350s will be powered by Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines.
The A350 was conceived as competition to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner which, despite its much publicised problems (3 years of delays followed by a 3 month grounding this year due to problems with its new batteries) has proven hugely popular with airlines around the world. Over 800 Dreamliners have already been ordered and Airbus was in danger of losing out in the wide bodied, twin-engine market if it did nothing.
British Airways has placed orders for 18 of the larger, Airbus A350-10 series which is scheduled to be delivered to the airline between 2017 & 2021, largely to replace its ageing fleet of 50 plus 747s.