Airbus' A350 Dreamliner-killer takes flight

The manufacturer's eco-plane took its maiden flight today. Will this make up for past mistakes?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 18 Nov 2013
When Airbus premiered its last big innovation, it knew it was taking a gamble: the giant Airbus A380 focused on size and luxury; while its rival’s new innovation, the Boeing Dreamliner, was small, light and very efficient.

In the dog-fight that ensued, Boeing was the undisputed winner: while the Airbus has had about 260 orders, the Dreamliner has had just under 900.

So it was with excitement this morning that Airbus premiered its Dreamliner-killer, the A350, which is constructed from light-weight materials and uses 25% less fuel than similar aircraft its size.

The plane’s maiden flight took place at Blagnac airstrip near Toulouse in France, a milestone which Airbus hopes will put it back in competition with its US rival.

But the plane’s development is far from being complete: having successfully got the thing into the air, Airbus will now enter an 18-month period of tests and trials, which will (all things going well) culminate in the delivery of the first A350 at the end of next year. It's clearly onto something: it has already received 600-odd orders.

It’s been an incredibly speedy turnaround. Development of the Dreamliner was beset by delays – the first was delivered to Al Nippon Airways in September 2011, three years behind schedule. And since its introduction, the plane has been less a dream, more an unpleasant night terror: in February it ditched lithium-ion batteries as ‘inherently unsafe’ after several planes were grounded after they experienced ‘problems’ mid-flight.

But Airbus knows all about problems: its A380 was grounded for a short period in 2010 after one of its Rolls-Royce engines, er, exploded on a Qantas flight.

So Airbus may be coming late to the party – but it has learned from its (and Boeing’s mistakes). The benefit of hindsight could be just what it needs to bring it out on top in the battle of the eco-liners.

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