Airbus to fly biggest A350 in battle of big twinjets

Wed Nov 23, 2016 7:43am EST
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus (AIR.PA: Quote) is preparing to stage the maiden flight of its largest twin-engined airplane, the A350-1000, stepping up a war for sales in a market segment dominated by U.S. rival Boeing.

Barring bad weather that could lead to a postponement, Thursday's roughly three-hour debut will add a new 366-seat member to the lightweight carbon-fibre A350 family, which entered service with the smaller A350-900 early last year.

It is part of a game of leapfrog at the top of the market for twin-engined long-haul jets, as the dominant planemakers vie to outdo each other in size and efficiency in a category expected to generate $1 trillion in orders over the next 20 years.

It is also at the center of a new subsidy row between Europe and the United States at a time of protectionist pressures on both sides of the Atlantic. The World Trade Organization is expected to rule in coming days that Boeing received at least one strand of banned support for its response to the A350-1000, known as the 777X.

Airbus said the A350-1000, a stretched version of the model which entered service last year, was scheduled to take off from its Toulouse base at around 0930 GMT on Thursday, returning there later, in an outing that marks the start of roughly a year of flight testing.

The United States says the plane and its smaller A350 sister model could only get off the drawing board thanks to damaging European subsidies, in a dispute likely to rumble on long after the A350-1000 enters service in the second half of 2017.

The aircraft, which sells for $356 million at list prices, is designed to compete with Boeing's 777-300ER, the most successful version of the U.S. planemaker's popular 777 family.

Airbus hopes it will help it reach 50 percent of wide-body aircraft deliveries, up from 35 percent in 2015. But critics say the aircraft failed to deliver the knockout blow to the older 777 it had hoped, despite an upgrade in engine design.   Continued...

A winglet of the Airbus A350 XWB flight-test aircraft is pictured during a media day event at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo August 7, 2014.  EUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo