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European plane maker Airbus has completed a maiden flight of its next-generation A350 passenger aircraft. The event came only days before the Paris Air Show, with lucrative orders expected to come in.
Airbus's next-generation A350 plane landed safely in Toulouse following its first test flight Friday. After just over four hours in the air, the new plane touched down to cheers from Airbus employees and hundreds of aviation enthusiasts who had assembled on a nearby hill to watch the landmark flight.
The plane was manned by a British and a French test pilot plus a number of flight engineers at the back.
Tom Enders, the head of Airbus' parent company, EADS, described the test flight as "a galvanizing moment" for the entire group. "It's a very special moment in the life of a company," he commented.
The maiden flight came ahead of Monday's opening of the Paris Air Show. "I believe the show next week should be good for a few hundred orders for Airbus," Enders said.
More than half of the new A350 long-haul plane is made of light composite materials that reduce fuel costs dramatically. It will gradually replace the A330 which has generated almost half of the firm's revenues in recent years.
Airbus hopes the A350 will be able to challenge Boeing's lead in the lucrative long-haul market, particularly after the US rival's problems with its 787 Dreamliner.
Following Friday's maiden flight, the jet is to enter a test-flying period that Airbus hopes will last less than 18 months, with the first delivery expected at the end of next year. Confirmed clients so far include Qatar Airways, British Airways and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific.
Aviation analyst Nick Cunningham warned that the test-flying period might still reveal a number of problems engineers didn't have on their radar yet. "They start building aircraft before they finish certifying and testing, so if you run into any issues, it gets very expensive as you have to fix the ones you already built," Cunningham explained.
hg/dr (dpa, AFP)