The Airbus A350-1000 flew for the first time Thursday, taking off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 10:42 am local time for a four hour, 18-minute mission over southwestern France. The event marked the start of an intensive campaign of testing involving three prototypes scheduled to fly 1,600 hours over an estimated ten-month period before expected certification in the second half of next year.
The main flight test duties for the first airplane, MSN059, involve exploration of the flight envelope, handling qualities, loads and braking. The second aircraft to fly, MSN071, will also evaluate performance, specifically braking, powerplant, systems and autopilot. Airbus plans to equip the third and final aircraft to fly, MSN065, with a passenger interior to evaluate cabin and air systems. MSN065 will also perform the “early long flights” and route proving.
The largest of the new three-member family of composite-bodied airliners, the A350-1000 measures some 240 feet long and carries 366 passengers in a typical three-class configuration. Powered exclusively by 97,000-pound-thrust Rolls-Royce Trent XWB 97 turbofans, it flies to a range of 7,950 nautical miles, allowing it to support routes for emerging markets such as Shanghai-Boston or Paris-Santiago, as well as more traditional flight segments as Manchester-Los Angeles or Dubai-Melbourne.
Competing directly against the Boeing 777-300ER and its eventual successor, the 777-8X, the A350-1000 has drawn firm orders for 195 copies since the Airbus family’s industrial launch in December, 2006. During that same timeframe, the 777-300ER has collected orders for 569, although over the past two years a softening of demand in the widebody market in general has raised the possibility that Boeing will cut production of the current generation 777 for a second time during the transition to the larger 777-9X, scheduled for entry into service in 2020. The -8X, however, will not reach the market until 2022, by which time Airbus expects the A350-1000 to have flown in revenue service for five years.
Airbus plans delivery of the first A350-1000 to Qatar Airways. The Gulf-state airline, also a customer for the A350-900 and A320neo, has canceled delivery of the first five of the single-aisle jets amid conflicts over engine guarantees. As for the A350-1000, 37 of which Qatar has ordered, airline CEO Akbar Al Baker had said he expects first delivery in June. Since then, Airbus has moved expected first delivery from mid-2017 to the second half of that year. Al Baker has already expressed dissatisfaction with delays involving the A350-900—only 34 of which Airbus has delivered since its certification in late 2014--due largely to the failure of French supplier Zodiac to deliver cabin seats and lavatories on time. However, Zodiac this month reported that it has boosted lavatory output from 20 shipsets a month in February to 70, as it works to achieve required delivery rates by the end of this year.