Latest aircraft from the Airbus hangar takes maiden flight
EUROPE'S newest jetliner, the Airbus A350, successfully completed its maiden flight yesterday, stepping up the battle with arch-rival Boeing for sales of a new generation of sleek, lightweight passenger aircraft.
Watched by more than 10,000 staff and spectators, the aircraft's curled wingtips sliced into clouds above the Airbus factory in southwestern France and flew over the Pyrenees mountains, with a crew of six wearing orange jumpsuits and parachutes.
The flight, with two former fighter pilots at the controls, lasted about four hours and capped eight years of development estimated to have cost $15bn (€11.25bn).
"The airplane is behaving extremely well," said British chief test pilot Peter Chandler, speaking by radio link from an altitude of 13,000 feet.
French co-pilot Guy Magrin took the controls for the take-off, giving the plane air under its wings for the first time in front of a podium of airline chiefs who have ordered 613 aircraft.
It touched down four hours later, after flying past the Toulouse production site.
"It is a great day for Airbus. A maiden flight doesn't happen that often.
"It is not like the auto industry, where you launch a new model every two years or even less," said Tom Enders, the head of Airbus parent EADS.
The long-awaited sortie is a milestone for Airbus as it battles against Boeing's 787 Dreamliner for sales of a new generation of lightweight jets made from carbon-plastic material desig- ned to save fuel and open up new long-distance routes.
Boeing was quickest off the mark with the revolutionary carbon-composite technology and its Dreamliner has outsold the A350 with sales standing at 833 aircraft for 57 customers.
Airbus hopes to catch up and also mount a challenge to the US manufacturer's larger, metallic 777 using a later version of the A350.
Airbus's ebullient New York-born sales chief, John Leahy, lost no time in talking up the plane's benefits moments after its Rolls-Royce (RR.L) engines opened up to full power.
"Did you hear how quiet it was? We are going to set new standards . . . people round airports won't even know we are taking off," Leahy said.