PARIS — Airbus sent a new wide-body plane into the skies Friday that sets the stage for intensifying competition with U.S. rival Boeing, with consequences for jobs, airlines’ investments and the planemakers’ reputations.
After years of delays and a revamp that cost billions, the A350 cruised for four hours in partly cloudy skies above Toulouse in southern France. Most importantly, it landed safely.
The flight marks a key step on the path to full certification for the jet, which can carry between 250 and 400 passengers and is the European aircraft-maker’s best hope for catching up in a long-haul market dominated by Boeing’s 777 and the 787, known as the Dreamliner.
Airbus has 613 orders for the A350 and hopes Friday’s flight will bring it momentum heading into next week’s Paris Air Show, which is already shaping up as a battle of the wide-body planes.
“There is a lot of money at stake, a lot of employment at stake. This is an extremely important political, social and economic issue,” said Gerald Feldzer, a French aviation expert and former airline pilot.
The A350, which was delayed for two years as Airbus hashed out a new design, is a competitor to the 787 — minus the lithium ion batteries now under investigation for unexplained smoldering. Airbus abandoned its plans to use the lithium ion batteries despite their advantages in weight, power and re-charging speed.
A year ago, at the Paris Air Show’s sister event in Britain, Boeing beat Airbus for the number of orders announced. The two companies vie closely each year for the title of world’s biggest planemaker, and the race is as tight as ever.