Airbus's largest A350 jet carries out its maiden flight

Thu Nov 24, 2016 1:20pm EST
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By Tim Hepher and Johanna Decosse

TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - Europe's largest twin-engined passenger jet, the Airbus (AIR.PA: Quote) A350-1000, took to the skies for the first time on Thursday, seeking to grab the spotlight from Boeing's popular 777.

The lightweight carbon-fiber plane, 7 meters longer and able to carry 40 more people than A350s already in service, began a three-hour debut flight at 4.42 a.m ET, watched by some of the airline bosses who have invested in the $356 million jet.

It later returned to base after a 4 hour and 20 minute flight during which co-pilot Frank Chapman said it had performed "smoothly", similar to its sister plane the A350-900.

The 366-seat A350-1000 is designed to break Boeing's (BA.N: Quote) virtual monopoly in the lucrative "mini-jumbo" segment, typically involving large twin-engined jets carrying 350 people.

It is larger than the new-generation A350-900, which entered service last year. Both are built from similar advanced materials to Boeing's mid-sized 787 Dreamliner in a race between planemakers for fuel savings and better passenger comfort.

The aircraft involved in Thursday's Toulouse debut is one of three test planes facing 1,600 hours of intensive flight testing before the A350-1000 enters service in the second half of 2017.

Fabrice Bregier, chief executive of the planemaking division of Airbus Group, told Reuters he was confident the A350-1000 would be delivered on time to launch customer Qatar Airways.

"It makes me very happy and very proud. We are flying according to the timetable we had planned," he said moments after the jet, weighing 230 tonnes, took off under leaden skies to applause from factory workers.   Continued...

An Airbus A350-1000 lands during its maiden flight event in Colomiers near Toulouse, Southwestern France, November 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau