Fuel-frugal airliner swoops in on test flight

Last updated 05:00 07/08/2014

CURVY BIRD: The swooping shape of the new Airbus A350 at Auckland International Airport.

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The world's newest airliner, the Airbus A350, has called into Auckland as part of a global test flight programme.

The wide-body A350 is the French planemaker's response to America's Boeing 787.

To the casual observer there is little to set the two aircraft apart at the airport gate, but that is what you would expect when design by aerodynamic efficiency dictates an optimal shape.

The A350's curved-up wingtips is the distinguishing feature.

Onboard, bigger windows provide more light, while higher cabin air pressure and more humidity make long-distance flying more comfortable for the 315 passengers.

Like the 787, the A350 features a fuselage made entirely of lightweight carbon-fibre composite, dispensing with the traditional aluminium skin. About half the aircraft is made of carbon fibre and the rest from high-quality metals such as titanium.

Airbus A350 marketing director Mike Bauser said the aircraft was 25 per cent more fuel-efficient than the Boeing 777 it also competes with, offering a sizeable operating cost saving for airlines.

It was also slightly more frugal than the 787, thanks to a newer variant of the Rolls-Royce Trent engines, Bauser said.

Before the first A350-900 can go into service with Qatar Airways at the end of the year it must demonstrate that it can fly a virtual schedule comprising short and long-haul flights.

The world tour includes 14 major airports and one route via the North Pole.

Tests include high airfield performance, auto-landing trials, and airport turnaround and handling services checks.

The flights are being conducted over a series of four multiple-stop journeys starting and ending at Airbus's factory in southern France.

On its way to Auckland, the A350 stopped at Johannesburg and Sydney.

Yesterday afternoon the aircraft took off for Santiago, Chile.

Bauser said Airbus had sold 742 A350s to 38 customers. That compares with Boeing's more than 1000 orders for the hugely successful 787. Air New Zealand, which last month took delivery of its first 787-9, has indicated it will consider the A350 as a potential replacement of its Boeing 777 fleet.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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