Airbus, Boeing’s chief rival in the aerospace industry, is on the verge of putting its brand new jet into the air for the first time.
The A350 XWB, in the works for nearly a decade, is the European company’s answer to Boeing’s Dreamliner, an effort to push the envelope in passenger comfort, aerodynamics, and fuel efficiency.
One of the first commercial jets (after the Dreamliner) to be made primarily of composite materials instead of metal, the A350 will come in three variants — the 800, 900, and 1000. It will carry between 250 and 350 people.
The largest, the A350-1000, will be able to fly 350 passengers 8,400 nautical miles (9,667 miles) on a tank of gas.
Boeing had the jump on Airbus, delivering the first Dreamliner in September 2011. But two battery malfunctions a week apart in January 2013 led to a federally-mandated grounding, hurting the planemaker’s reputation and bottom line.
Eager to avoid such a costly debacle, Airbus is taking its time rolling out the A350.
The company has not set a date for the new jet’s first test flight, though there’s speculation the A350 will take off at the Paris Air Show next week.
Like Boeing's Dreamliner, the A350 is made mostly from composite materials, not metal. That makes the whole plane lighter and more fuel-efficient.
Fuel efficiency is the big draw: Airbus says the A350 will burn 25% less fuel than the previous generation of comparable jets.
The A350 has curved winglets that measure 17 feet, to improve aerodynamics. The plane is designed to cruise at Mach 0.85 (85% the speed of sound), a standard pace for long-haul jets.
The flight deck is designed to be ergonomic and easy to use for pilots accustomed to different Airbus planes. This cockpit, in test aircraft MSN1, was powered up for the first time in August 2012.
The jetliner is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines that generate nearly 100,000 pounds of thrust, and are key in reducing the A350's fuel consumption.
The plane's interior is meant to be revolutionary as well. The cabin will be lit with energy-efficient LEDs that come in various colours.
It's more crowded in economy, with nine seats per row. That gives each passenger 18 inches of seat width.
Like the Dreamliner, the composite A350 has larger windows than traditional jets. These are the widest of any jetliner, according to Airbus.
But before Airbus can deliver any of the 613 A350 XWBs it has taken orders for, there's a lot of work to do.
They have to stand up to things like lightning strikes. Most planes are hit by lightning about once every two years.
Airbus wants to avoid a debacle like the Dreamliner 787 grounding, which has already cost Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars.
It certainly doesn't want an image like this — of a charred Dreamliner battery — associated with the brand new A350.
We don't know when the A350 will make its first test flight, but some guess it will happen at the Paris Air Show this month. If it does, we'll be on the scene to see it happen.
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