Earlier today, at around 10 am Toulouse time, the brand new Airbus A350 took to the skies for the very first time, beginning a program of design and certification testing that should last into 2014. The EIS target for the A350-900 is the fall of 2014, with the first deliveries to go to Qatar Airways.
The aircraft lifted off right on schedule and flew around the area for four hours testing various flight configurations, but never raising the gear.
Development work on what was called the A350 began almost a decade ago, with an earlier version of the aicraft being partially derived from the existing A330. That plan changed in 2006 when Airbus announced it would produce a clean-sheet design called the A350XWB (Xtra Wide Body). Like the 787, this new aircraft is primarily constructed of composite materials (53%). The goal is, of course, saving weight – and therefore fuel.
The A350’s dimensions place it squarely between the competing Boeing 777 and 787 models. Designed with three fuselage lengths in mind (-800, -900, -1000), the model seeks to bridge the gap between the two Boeings. The first model to fly is the A350-900, with a fuselage slightly longer than a 777-200 but a cabin about eleven inches narrower. The A350-800’s dimensions skew closer to the 787-9, which is due to debut in a couple of months. The A350-800 is slightly longer than the 787-9 and about five inches wider, as well. The big A350-1000 is almost exactly as long as Boeing’s popular 777-300ER. The goal of the middle-of-the-road fuselage width was to provide the option of 10-abreast high density seating in a smaller package than the 777 – although in that configuration, seating will be appreciably tighter on the A350 than on high-density 10-abreast 777s.
It’s hard to judge the exact size of big twins in pictures – because proportionally a long twin widebody doesn’t look that much different than an A321 or a 737-900, but one thing that will be readily apparent about the A350 is its massive wingspan. For a slightly smaller, narrower aircraft, the A350 has a wingspan nearly identical to that of the Boeing 777 – and almost 15 feet wider than the A330. The wing also has a larger area than that of the 777, making it the largest wing ever designed for a wide-body twin aircraft, with a total area of 4,770 sq. ft. The wings are capped with distinctive “sabre-like” raked wing tips.
No freighter variant of the A350 has been announced, but Airbus has specifically stated that it has envisioned an A350 freighter from the beginning design stages, so the DNA for a freighter variant is “baked in” to the design.
It is far more likely that the A350’s initial impact on the cargo market will come through belly freight – as the 777-300ER has had a significant impact, so will the A350-900 and A350-1000. Emirates alone has orders for 50 A350-900s and 20 A350-1000s. Other major orders for either the -900 or -1000 have come from Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, United, and other companies with strong belly operations.
We’ll be bringing you more updates on the A350 as the testing program continues.
To see more about the first flight, including video, visit www.a350xwbfirstflight.com.
Photo: S. Ramadier / © Airbus S.A.S.