Airbus A350 Makes Its First Flight

a350 first flight
Both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines are considering the purchase of the A350
Copyright Photo: T. Laurent/

The brand new Airbus aircraft wasn't the only star on the runway in Toulouse.While the attention of the world was on the A350,  the attention of proud Philippine aviation enthusiasts was on Cebu Pacific's first A330-300 aircraft which took off for Manila just moments before the A350's take off. Not only was it a stylish way to make an exit but great exposure for the Philippines to be the opening act of this highly anticipated A350 performance...

Airbus SAS’s new A350 wide-body took off for its first test flight at 10:00 a.m. in Toulouse,France, before a crowd of 12,000, in a show of confidence that the jet can enter service in late 2014 and challenge Boeing Co. (BA)

Two test pilots and four engineers boarded earlier in the morning, outfitted in orange jump suits, helmets and parachutes, accepting wishes for a good flight from Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier and A350 program Director Didier Evrard, ahead of a flight expected to last four hours.

“It was an impressive sight,” said Airbus sales chief John Leahy after the plane had taken off. “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.”The plane, which cost about 11 billion euros ($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 comes days ahead of the Paris Air Show, the annual showdown between the two manufacturers.

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 Bregier, Leahy and 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 liverly 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. “I will be still be nervous until it comes back.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Rothman in Toulouse at

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