The Airbus A350-900 ULR completed its first flight out of Toulouse Blagnac Airport Monday, marking the start of what the manufacturer characterizes as a short flight-test program to certify the modifications to the standard A350-900 that will bring the ULR’s additional range capability. The test phase will also measure enhanced performance derived from aerodynamic improvements, including extended winglets.
Capable of flying to a range of 9,700 nautical miles or more than 20 hours nonstop, the latest variant of the A350 XWB will fly farther than any other airliner when it enters service with launch customer Singapore Airlines by the end of the year.
Engineers managed an additional 1,600 nm of range in the A350-900 ULR though adaptations to the fuel system computer and to the air venting and inert gas distribution piping in the wing, allowing for the extra range without adding fuel tanks. The changes result in an increase in fuel-carrying capacity from 141,000 liters (37,248 U.S. gallons) to 165,000 liters (43,588 U.S. gallons), supported by a maximum takeoff weight increase to 280 metric tons from the originally specified 268 tons on the standard version. Airbus plans to increase the mtow on the standard A350-900 to as much as 280 metric tons in 2020, effectively matching it with the ULR’s figure.
Airbus launched the ULR program in October 2015 with Singapore’s conversion of a firm order for seven standard A350-900s. SIA plans to use the A350-900 ULR for direct services between Singapore and U.S. cities, including an 8,700-nautical mile route from its home base to New York. Prohibitive operating costs with the A340-500 SIA used for its services to New York and Los Angeles effectively spelled those routes’ demise in 2013.