You don't see a new commercial aircraft's maiden flight every day, but that's exactly what happened today at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France.
The company's newest airliner, the A350-1000, took off into gray skies at 10:42 a.m. local time for a test flight. After circling over southern France and the Pyrenees mountains, it returned to Toulouse for a successful landing four hours later.
The A350-1000 is a stretched version of the A350-900, which first entered commercial service in early 2015. Designed to replace the four-engine Airbus A340-600, the A350-1000 promises better efficiency and cheaper operating and maintenance costs thanks to two fewer engines and a lighter construction.
Like the Boeing 787, the A350-1000 is built from composite materials and such similar design features as a blunter nose and highly-swept wings. But with a typical passenger load of 366 people and a range of 7,950 nautical miles (14,800km) -- enough to fly from Shanghai to Boston nonstop -- the wide-body aircraft's prime competition will be the Boeing 777-300ER. That aircraft can carry about 60 more people, but has a slightly shorter range.
According to Airbus, the A350-1000 has so far won 195 orders from 11 airlines including Asiana, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. The first of those orders should enter service in the second half of 2017.