Airbus Sets First Flight of New A350 for Friday
With next week's Paris Air Show just around the corner, Airbus announced on Tuesday that the first flight of its new A350 XWB (extra wide body) jet will take place on Friday.
The A350, which has been in the making since 2004, is Airbus' first commercial jet to be made primarily from composite materials, offering better fuel efficiency and the latest in passenger comfort.
The plane will help it compete with Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, also made largely from light-weight composite materials.
Airbus has proceeded cautiously after the Dreamliner, which was launched in September 2011, faced several battery malfunctions earlier this year. That led regulators to ground the plane for several months until Boeing could fix the problem.
Last week, Airbus' chief operating officer John Leahy told Aviation Week the plane-maker was not going to rush the first flight of the A350: "We are not going to fall victim like Boeing did with the 787."
On Friday, Airbus said in a press release that the A350 flight test teams are now carrying out the last checks on the the aircraft "MSN1" before they give their final green light for the first flight.
"Weather conditions permitting, the A350 XWB "MSN1" will take off from Toulouse-Blagnac airport at around 10:00 am local time," Airbus said in a press release.
A successful first flight for the A350 would be a big public relations boost for Airbus as it seeks to get more customers on-board for its new plane at the Paris Airshow, which begins on June 17.
Speaking to CNBC earlier on Tuesday, Tim Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace magazine said the A350 was likely to do a fly by at the show.
"They're trying to manage expectations, but with it being the 50th Le Bourget show, to have a brand new European airliner would be a big coup for everybody," Robinson said.
The grounding of Boeing's Dreamliner due to overheating of its lithium-ion battery forced Airbus to make modifications earlier this year to the A350. The plane-maker ditched lithium-ion batteries and chose heavier nickel-cadmium ones instead for the new plane.
Robinson said the problems with the Dreamliner were just an example of the issues within both Boeing and Airbus.
"Both have been struck recently by an over-ambitious pushing of aviation. With Airbus, we had the wing-crack issue with the A380 and with Boeing 787 we had the battery issue. Both these issues have been a learning experience for the companies and what you see with the A350 is Airbus proceeding very carefully to de-risk the program even more than they would do previously."
The A350 will come in three variants (800, 900 and 1000) and will carry between 250 and 350 people. Boeing's Dreamliner and its variants can accommodate between 210 and 290 passengers.
(Read More: Airbus Comes to US, Puts More Pressure on Boeing)