Featured image: Airbus

6/14/2013: The First Flight of the Airbus A350

DALLAS – Today, in 2013, the prototype of the Airbus A350 took to the skies for the first time from Toulouse–Blagnac Airport (TLS), Toulouse, France.

The Airbus A350 is a long-range wide-body jet aircraft designed and manufactured by Airbus. In response to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus proposed the first A350 concept in 2004, which was a version of the A330 with composite wings and new engines.

Due to a lack of market backing, Airbus switched to a new “XWB” (eXtra Wide Body) design in 2006, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofan engines. In September 2014, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted the A350 its type certification, which was followed two months later by certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

It has a new fuselage with a nine-abreast economy cross-section, up from the A330/eight-abreast A340’s cross-section. It shares the same type rating as the A330.

Airbus A350 XWB. Photo: Airbus

History

At the start of the new millennium, Airbus had initially dismissed Boeing’s allegation that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would pose a severe threat to the A330, claiming that the 787 was merely a reply to the A330 and that no more action was required.

When airlines pressed Airbus for a competitor, the “A330-200Lite” was proposed, a version of the A330 with superior aerodynamics and engines similar to those found on the 787. This variant was supposed to be announced during the 2004 Farnborough Airshow, but it never happened.

However, during a private meeting with prospective customers on September 16, 2004, Airbus president and chief executive officer Nol Forgeard confirmed the consideration of a new project. Forgeard would not reveal the project’s name or if it would be a completely new design or a tweak to an existing product. Airbus committed €4bn on a new airplane design in response to airline displeasure with this proposal.

And so, the authorization to offer for the A350 was approved by Airbus’ shareholders, EADS and BAE Systems, on December 10, 2004, with a 2010 service entry expected.

A partially-complete A350-900 XWB (destined for Finnair) on the Toulouse assembly line, December 2014. Photo: Bernd K, CC BY-SA 4.0

Design

A plan of the A350 XWB’s new nose and general arrangement inside the forward fuselage. Image: Luis E. Contreras, CC BY-SA 3.0

The A350 shared the same fuselage cross-section as the A330, as well as a new horizontal stabilizer. The A350 was supposed to be a 250- to 300-seat twin-engine wide-body aircraft based on the design of the existing A330. Under this plan, the A350 would have changed wings and new engines while sharing the A330’s fuselage cross-section.

The fuselage was to be made mostly of aluminum-lithium rather than the carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) fuselage used on the Boeing 787 as a result of a contentious design. Two of Airbus’s main clients, International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) and GE Capital Aviation Services, publicly criticized the original A350 design (GECAS).

The revised aircraft was given the designation “A350 XWB” on July 14, 2006, at the Farnborough International Airshow (Xtra-Wide-Body). Singapore Airlines decided to order 20 A350 XWBs within four days, with options for another 20 A350 XWBs.

The proposed A350 was a new design with a bigger fuselage cross-section, allowing seating arrangements ranging from eight-abreast low-density premium economy to ten-abreast high-density seating for a maximum passenger capacity of 440–475 depending on the version. The Airbus board of directors approved the A350-800, -900, and -1000 variants’ commercial introduction on December 1, 2006.

Airbus describes the A350 as “the most modern and efficient aircraft.” The aircraft’s adaptive wing design, which was inspired by birds, morphs while in flight to achieve optimum aerodynamic efficiency by optimizing wing loading, reducing drag, and cutting fuel burn.

Additionally, the type is made up of over 70% of innovative materials, including carbon composites (53%), titanium, and contemporary aluminum alloys, making the A350 the company’s first airplane composed primarily of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer and creating lighter, more cost-effective aircraft with lower maintenance requirements.

There are two versions of the airliner: The A350-900 can carry 300 to 350 passengers over a 15,000-kilometer (8,100-mile) range and has a 280-tonne (617,300-pound) maximum take-off weight (MTOW); the lengthier A350-1000 can carry 350 to 410 passengers and has a maximum range of 16,100 km (8,700 nmi) and a 319 t (703,200 lb) MTOW.

The A350 demonstrator, painted with carbon fiber weaves. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways

Certification

On September 30, 2014, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted the A350 type certification. EASA authorized the A350-900 for ETOPS 370 on October 15, 2014, allowing it to fly for more than six hours on a single engine and making it the first airliner to be licensed for “ETOPS Beyond 180 minutes” prior to entering service.

Airbus was granted regulatory permission for a Common Type Rating for pilot training between the A350 XWB and the A330 later that month. The FAA granted the A350 certification on November 12, 2014. The EASA published an airworthiness directive on August 1, 2017, requiring operators to power cycle (reset) early A350-900s after 149 hours of continuous power-on time.

Qatar Airways’ first A350-900 XWB (registration: A7-ALA) after the first commercial flight to Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Kiefer. from Frankfurt, Germany – Qatar Airways Airbus A350-941 A7-ALA 15.Jan.2015 First commercial service Doha-Frankfurt, CC BY-SA 2.0

Operations

However, QR has had a tense relationship with Airbus since receiving its first example. Issues with paint and safety led the airline to ground its entire A350 fleet and a subsequent public and bitter legal battle between the two.

Airbus subsequently canceled QR’s order for 50 of its A321neo airliners. The Qatari carrier moved to Boeing and its 737 MAX family to replace the order. Airbus also canceled any outstanding orders QR had for its A350s. In February 2023, the two reached an undisclosed mutual agreement to settle the dispute as repairs to the airline’s A350s were underway.

Over the next 20 years, Airbus was set to win more than half of the 250-300 seat aircraft market, which was predicted to total 3,100 aircraft. The 245-seat A350-800, based on the A330, had a range of 8,600 nautical miles (15,900 kilometers) whereas the 285-seat A350-900 had a range of 7,500 nautical miles (13,900 kilometers).

As of May 2023, there were 967 A350 orders, 535 of which had been delivered, and all were in operation with 37 different carriers.

Recent orders have included Philippine Airlines (PR) which signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for nine A350-1000s in May 2023. Air France-KLM Group ordered four A350Fs for KLM’s cargo subsidiary Martinair (MP), as well as three additional -900s for Air France (AF). Meanwhile, Lufthansa Group member SWISS (LX) will welcome five -900s from 2025 to replace its ageing A350s.

Photo: Airbus

A350 Freighter

An A350-900 freighter was first mentioned in 2007, offering a similar capacity to the MD-11F with a range of 9,250 km (5,000 nmi), to be developed after the passenger version. In early 2020, Airbus proposed an A350F before a potential launch. The freighter would be slightly longer than the A350-900 and Airbus would need 50 orders to launch the US$2–3 bn program.

In July 2021, the Airbus board approved the freighter development. It is based on the -1000 version for a payload over 90 tonnes, and entry into service is targeted for 2025.

At the November 2021 Dubai Air Show, US lessor Air Lease Corporation became the launch customer with an order for seven to be delivered around 2026, among other Airbus airliners. The launch operator of the A350F will be Singapore Airlines (SQ), which ordered 7 aircraft at the 2022 Singapore Airshow, and deliveries will start from 2025.

In December 2021, Airbus firmed up an order for the purchase of four A350F freighter aircraft with the CMA CGM Group, a world leader in shipping and logistics.

Featured image: Airbus A350 XWB MSN1 First Flight. Article source: Airbus, BBC.

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