With Boeing's 787 Dreamliner reeling from recent and well-publicized setbacks, the commercial airline industry is no doubt eagerly awaiting the first flight of Airbus' next new airplane, the A350 XWB.
Although Airbus isn't saying when it will unveil the all-new A350 XWB (the XWB stands for "extra-wide body"), there is plenty of speculation that those attending this summer's Paris Air Show will get to see the plane in flight.
This would be big news for a number of airlines, who no doubt are wondering if they can afford to tie themselves to the Dreamliner, given that aircraft's global grounding in the wake of battery fires aboard some of the next-generation planes.
For Airbus, the A350 XWB presents a wealth of opportunity, since the plane was designed to compete directly with both the 787 Dreamliner and Boeing's 777 and 777-X. It is, as Airchive.com wrote, the "War of the Wide-bodies."
Already, reported Airchive.com, Airbus has taken 617 orders for the three different variants of the A350. By comparison, Boeing has 890 orders for the Dreamliner (not counting the 50 it has delivered already) as well as 1,500 deliveries and orders for 777s.
Airbus designed the A350 XWB to be highly fuel-efficient, thanks in large part to its use of composite materials in 53 percent of the plane. It is also using titanium and advanced aluminum alloys, Airbus said, bringing the total of the plane's airframe that is made with "advanced materials" to more than 70 percent.
The plane's fuselage is made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic composites, Airbus said, which is meant to provide "lower fuel burn, easier maintenance, and increased resistance to corrosion." At the same time, the plane's wings are mainly made from lightweight carbon composites. At 105 feet long by 19.7 feet wide, they are the largest-ever single aviation parts made from carbon fiber, Airbus boasted.
All told, Airbus added, "the wing's advanced structural design, combined with its superior aerodynamics, is a significant contributor to the jetliner's 25 percent fuel-saving performance."
And, in a nod to avoiding the battery problems that Boeing has experienced on the Dreamliner, Airbus plans on relying on nickel-cadmium batteries rather than lithium-ion, Airchive.com noted, though the first three test A350s use lithium-ion batteries.
Airbus plans on building three different models of the A350 XWB. First up is the A350-900, which directly takes on Boeing's 777-200ER, and which is meant to replace Airbus' own A330-300. The A350-900 is expected to seat 314 passengers in a three-class layout, and use Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines generating 84,000 pounds of thrust each. The plane will have a range of 8,100 nautical miles.
The second model to fly will be the A350-800 XWB, which Airchive.com wrote, is meant to compete directly with Boeing's 787-9 Dreamliner, and only secondarily with the 787-8. The A350-800 XWB will also replace the A330-200, Airchive.com noted. It will seat 270 passengers in a three-class configuration, and fly with Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines providing 74,000 pounds of thrust each. It will have a range of 8,500 nautical miles.
Lastly, Airbus will release the A350-1000 XWB, which is designed to take on the 777-300ER, and replace Airbus' own A340-600, Airchive.com wrote. It seats 350 passengers in a three-class configuration, and uses the same engines as the A350-900. It can fly 8,400 nautical miles.
With the expected first flight of the A350 XWB this summer, Airbus would mark a crucial milestone for a program that begin on July 16, 2006, when the European aviation giant announced plans for the new planes.
In March 2007, Airchive.com wrote, Finnair became the first carrier to make an order for the A350 XWB, followed soon after by Aeroflot, Qatar Airways, Aer Lingus, Singapore Airlines, and many others.
In mid-2008, Airbus began wind tunnel testing for the plane, and in early 2009, Airbus started construction on the A350 XWB's final assembly plant.
Over the next few years, the company reached milestone after milestone, slowly piecing together the plane, and in October, 2011, the plane's first test engine was placed aboard an Airbus A380 "flying testbed," according to Airchive.com. The first test flight of the engines reached a max speed of Mach .9.
On April 5, 2012, final assembly of the first A350 began and by early December of last year, the main structural assembly and systems connections were completed. On February 26, the first A350 rolled off the final assembly line, wrote Airchive.com.
And now the aviation world waits, hoping that the plane will take to the skies this summer. Only Airbus knows the answer.