In a move expected to raise the ante in bitter competition between Europe and the United States for dominance of the skies, Airbus' long-awaited A350 XWB (for "extra wide body") aircraft took off from Toulouse, France, for its first test flight on Friday after years of delays and multiple designs of the plane. The flight commences a process of months of testing required for certification.
More than 10,000 people attended the take off of the aircraft, which included a test flight crew of six people.
"It's a galvanizing event for Airbus and for the entire group," Tom Enders, the head of Airbus parent company EADS, said on Thursday.
The aircraft is intended to compete with Boeing's prestigious 787 Dreamliner plane, whose first months in service have been plagued by problems. The fleet was grounded for four months due to problems with Dreamliner's lithium-ion batteries. Like its US rival, the A350 is built largely using carbon-fiber composites, which are significantly lighter than the aluminium traditionally used in aircraft and dramatically reduce fuel consumption. Airbus claims the aircraft will use 25 percent less fuel than current jets.
First Delivery Expected in 2014
The first A350 is scheduled for delivery to Qatar Airways at the end of 2014, and firm orders are already in place for 613 of the aircraft.
Airbus plans to build three different versions of the A350, which will be able to carry between 270 and 350 passengers. The most expensive model has a list price of 250 million (around $333 million).
The airplane is the first new aircraft to be introduced by Airbus since the A380 superjumbo, which first flew in 2005. Around 11 billion has been invested in the creation of the A350.
In recent years, the company had been focusing on its A380 models and it had originally planned to create an updated and lighter version of its aging A330 long-haul jet. Under pressure from airline customers and competition from Boeing's more innovative Dreamliner, Airbus returned to the drawing board and came up with the A350.
The aircraft's first flight comes just days ahead of the Paris Air Show, where Boeing is expected to build interest in an updated version of its popular 777 line of aircraft.