The A350-900 went into commercial service with Qatar Airways in January 2015

Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus’ Super-Advanced New Generation Airliner

The latest addition to European manufacturer Airbus’ commercial range, the A350 XWB 900 (‘Extra Wide Body’) is also the newest type on the worldwide airports scene. Embodying 40-odd years of Airbus design expertise, it’s among the most technologically-advanced aircraft in today’s skies. In its developers’ own words: 'The A350 XWB is Airbus’ all-new family of widebody aircraft that is shaping the future of medium- to long-haul airline operations’.

First flown in June 2013 after more than six years’ development, the A350 XWB was conceived to ultimately replace the Airbus A330 and A340 in global airline service. Its principal competitors are Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and newer versions of its 777.

Airbus A350 Construction

A350 XWB Development

The A350 XWB development programme was launched in December 2006. Physical construction started three years later and work on the aircraft’s fuselage began in late 2010. Final assembly took place between April and December 2012, with the prototype A350 XWB then being rolled-off Airbus’ final assembly line on 26 February 2013. Taxi trials, completed by 11 June 2013, preceded the A350 XWB’s first flight which took place on 14 June and lasted four hours, five minutes. By this point in time, 613 A350s had been ordered by 33 airlines.

Come October 2013, a second A350 XWB was flying and the two prototypes had performed 80 test flights and accumulated some 400 flying hours. The A350 XWB flight test programme in the end involved five airframes whose combined flying hours exceeded the 2,000 mark. EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) type certifications were awarded in September and November 2014, respectively, paving the way for the type to start commercial flights. In launch customer Qatar Airways’ hands, this it did in January 2015.

A350 First Flight

A350 XWB Features

The A350 XWB features a fuselage and wings made from CFRP (carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic). This and other advanced materials, like titanium, have about a 70 per cent share of the A350 XWB’s total airframe make-up. Its wing cover, in fact, is the largest carbon fibre part yet used on a commercial airliner. Such extensive CFRP use reduces associated maintenance requirements and makes the A350 less susceptible to corrosion. The wings themselves have curved-up tips and are swept back by 31.9 degrees. Both aspects contribute towards making the A350 XWB as aerodynamic and efficient as possible in the air.

The A350 XWB is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines that were specially developed for this aircraft. Each one is approximately the same width as Concorde and, together, they reportedly produce 25 per cent fewer CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions than other engine designs.

Inside, the A350 XWB features an 18 foot, five inch (5.61 metre) wide cabin with 18-inch-wide passenger seats fitted as standard. These seats are the widest in this aircraft’s class and just one of the passenger comfort and convenience elements Airbus wove into this design. Others include full-LED lighting, state-of-the-art entertainment technology and wide windows while the cabin’s air management system sees air supplies replenished every three minutes at least. The A350 XWB’s cockpit is an all-digital affair featuring 15-inch display screens that – like the aircraft’s fly-by-wire flight controls – are styled on the Airbus A380’s.

A350 XWB Versions

The A350 XWB family originally consisted of three models with varying passenger capacities and ranges. Now, Airbus’ focus is on two of them while the A350-800 model’s development programme is in suspension but hasn’t, yet, been cancelled outright and won’t be while remaining orders for it are in place.

The A350-900 was the first – and is so far, the only – version to fly. With a 219 foot five inch (66.9 metre) fuselage, it provides seating for 325 passengers. The A350-1000, which has a longer fuselage (242 feet five inches – 73.8 metres), typically accommodates 366 passengers. The A350-1000 is being pieced together right now. With final assembly completed, it is expected to fly by December 2016. Commercial A350-1000 services are scheduled to start in mid-2017.

A350 Prototypes

A350-900 Operators

The A350-900 currently equips five of the world’s airlines. Its first operator was Qatar Airways, which started flying commercial routes with the type in January 2015. Next was Vietnam Airlines, on 3 July 2015, followed by Finnair (9 October 2015, becoming the first European A350-900 operator), TAM Airlines (25 January 2016) and, most recently, Singapore Airlines (8 March 2016). So far (as of April 2016), 19 A350-900s have been delivered, including four in 2016. That leaves 561 A350-900s, 181 A350-1000s and 758 A350 XWBs of all types still on order.

A350 XWB Orders

The below list details all fulfilled and outstanding A350 XWB orders:

  • Areca – 20 A350-900s
  • Aer Lingus – Nine A350-900s
  • Aeroflot – Eight A350-800s, 14 A350-900s
  • Arabiya Airways – Ten A350-900s
  • Air Caraibes – Three A350-1000s
  • Air China – 10 A350-900s
  • Air France – 18 A350-900s
  • Air Lease Corporation – 21 A350-900s, five A350-1000s
  • Air Mauritius – Four A350-900s
  • AirAsia X – 10 A350-900s
  • ALAFCO – 12 A350-900s
  • Asiana Airlines – Eight A350-800s, 12 A350-900s, 10 A350-1000s
  • AWAS - Two A350-900s
  • British Airways – 18 A350-1000s
  • Cathay Pacific – 20 A350-900s, 26 A350-1000s
  • China Airlines – 14 A350-900s
  • CIT Group – 14 A350-900s
  • Delta Air Lines – 25 A350-900s
  • Ethiopian Airlines – 12 A350-900s
  • Etihad Airways – 40 A350-900s, 22 A350-1000s
  • Finnair – 19 A350-900s
  • Hong Kong Airlines – 15 A350-900s
  • Iberia – 16 A350-900s
  • Japan Airlines – 18 A350-900s, 13 A350-1000s
  • KLM – Seven A350-900s
  • Kuwait Airways – 10 A350-900s
  • LATAM Airlines Group – 15 A350-900s, 12 A350-1000s
  • Libyan Airlines – Six A350-900s
  • Lufthansa – 25 A350-900s
  • Qatar Airways – 43 A350-900s, 37 A350-1000s
  • Scandinavian Airlines – Eight A350-900s
  • Singapore Airlines – 67 A350-900s
  • SriLankan Airlines – Four A350-900s
  • Synergy Aerospace – 10 A350-900s
  • Thai Airways – Four A350-900s
  • United Airlines – 35 A350-1000s
  • US Airways – 22 A350-900s
  • Vietnam Airlines – 10 A350-900s
  • Yemenia – 10 A350-900s

A350 Deliveries

Key Facts:

Role: Long-range airliner Long-range airliner
Length: 219 ft 5 in (66.9 m)  242 ft 5 in (73.78 m)
Wing span: 212 ft 5 in (64.75 m) 212 ft 5 in (64.75 m)
Engines: 2 x Rolls-Royce Trent XWBs - 84,200 pounds thrust each 2 x Roll-Royce Trent XWBs - 97,100 pounds thrust each
Maximum speed: 584 mph (940 km/h) 584 mph (940 km/h)
Maximum range: 9,321 miles (15,000 km) 9,196 miles (14,800 km)
Maximum height: 43,100 ft (13,100 m)  43,100 ft (13,100 m) 
Crew:  Two (pilot, co-pilot) Two (pilot, co-pilot)
Passengers: 325 typically 366 typically

A350-900 fuselage image © Airbus S.A.S 2012 – photo by e*m company / P. MASCLET
A350-900 first flight image © Airbus S.A.S 2013 – photo by e*m company / A DOUMENJOU
A350-900 x 5 formation image © Airbus S.A.S 2014 – photo by S. RAMADIER
Qatar Airways A350-900 images © Airbus S.A.S 2014 – photo by master films / A. DOUMENJOU

A350-900 footage copyright Airbus – courtesy YouTube

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