Airbus has delivered the first of its A350 long-range jetliners to Qatar Airways. The new family of jets, the largest twin-engine planes in the Airbus stable, seat on average 315 in the first A350-900 version and 369 passengers in the larger A350-1000. Airbus designed the jets to compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and 777 long-distance planes which can carry 224 to more than 400 passengers. Here are five things to know about the A350:
1 LONG HAUL
The A350 will be able to fly as far as 7,750 nautical miles. For Qatar Airways, the lead customer for the jet, it means it can fly the plane almost anywhere in the world non-stop, except for New Zealand and remote locations in the Asia Pacific region. In a first, Airbus also has got approval to fly 370 minutes from the nearest divert field–an airfield designated for emergency landings–allowing more direct routes over water.
Airbus division CEO Fabrice Brégier, left, with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker
2 SHAPE SHIFTER
The A350 is designed more by customers than Airbus. Airbus developed the new plane having first thought its existing A330 long-range jet would compete with Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. The Dreamliner proved so popular with airlines that Airbus rethought its strategy and developed the A350. The initial design, approved by the company a decade ago, was found lacking. It was scrapped. Two years later Airbus unveiled an extra wide body, or XWB, version with a larger fuselage and improved performance.
An Airbus factory.
3 LATE ON ARRIVAL
Airlines have got used to late deliveries of new jets. Airbus struggled with its A380 super jumbo. Boeing encountered multiple problems building the 787 Dreamliner. The A350 has not been immune. Service entry, initially planned for last year, was pushed out to 2014 three years ago and then to the end of this year in mid-2012. The program has since remained on plan.
An Airbus A380.
4 A $15 BILLION AIRBUS
Airbus will have spent about $15 billion to develop the A350. That’s the staggering cost for five test planes, almost 3,000 hours of flight trials, and two full-sized ground jets used only for ground trials. One jet was frozen to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit to check its systems could power up in the extreme cold.
An A350 in Qatar Airways colors.
5 KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Airbus made changes in the way the A350 was built to minimize disruptions. Out went a wider range of bespoke interiors which it had offered A380 customers as did lithium-ion batteries which were linked to onboard fires on the Boeing 787. Airbus yanked a similar design and reverted to an earlier version.