This morning, Qatar Airways took delivery of the world’s first Airbus A350 XWB which is the last clean sheet wide body airliner until the next decade.

In an elaborate and dramatic ceremony held in Toulouse, the first A350 XWB aircraft was officially handed over by Airbus its launch customer, Qatar Airways. [pullquote]

A Long Road to Get to First Delivery

The road to get to the first A350 to its launch customer started a little more then a decade ago when Airbus refuted claims that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would be a serious threat to its A330 program, but the manufacturer still went to work to design an aircraft that would be able to directly compete with the 787. Initially, the design called for the new aircraft to look almost identical to the A330, but with some big changes to its wings and engines. On December 10, 2004, the boards of EADS and BAE Systems and the shareholders of Airbus gave Airbus the clearance to go ahead with this aircraft design, and it was dubbed the A350 program. The manufacturer made many design changes over the next few months as the Paris Air Show quickly approached, and on June 13, 2005, Qatar Airways announced plans, during the Paris Air Show, to purchase 60 A350s, making it the launch customer. [image]

The manufacturer initially planned for three models in the family: the A350-800, -900, and -1000, which seat between 270 and 350 passengers in typical three-class layouts with maximum range between 8,480 and 10,300 nautical miles. The A350 family has already secured 778 firm orders from 41 customers worldwide including additional industry luminaries Air France/KLM, US Airways, Hawaiian, Emirates, Ethiad, Aeroflot, Air Lingus, TAM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai. Though Hawaiian switched their 6 orders from the virtually cancelled A350-800 to the A330neo last week.

On June 11, 2013, Airbus reported that the initial ground taxi tests were complete, and that the A350 would take to the skies for the first time on June 14 at 10:00 a.m. Toulouse time.

At 9:15 a.m. on June 14, the media were transported via buses to a large field parallel to runway 14R/32L where the A350 would make its maiden take-off.  After the first flight, A350 Test Pilot Frank Chapman noted that “though this is an incredible moment, it is only the first hour of a year-long, 2,500 hour, five flight test campaign…The cockpit and many other aircraft systems are much further ahead than the A380 was on its first flight.”

Didier Evrard, the EVP and Head of the A350 Program offered a briefing after the four hour and five minute flight. “This (first flight) is one event, a very significant event, but the program is a fast moving body and this is just the first step,” he said. “Our next challenges are maturity at EIS and production ramp-up. The A380 program has been rich in lessons for this program and has led to us to deeply rework our practices.” Exactly one week after MSN-1’s first flight, the aircraft made a historic pass over the Paris Air Show as part of its third test flight. [image]

Kiran Rao, EVP of Strategy and Marketing: The A350 is Unique

During the first press conference, Kiran Rao, Airbus’ EVP Strategy and Marketing, went over some of the big things that make the A350 unique and compared it to the Boeing 777 family quite a few times. Rao explained that one thing that sets the A350 apart is that its systems are a lot more simplified than other aircraft thanks to having fewer fuel and hydraulic systems. Additionally, the goal of the A350 program was to save 25% in fuel burn compared to the Boeing 777-300ER.

Rao also pointed out that passengers will notice that the A350 is unique too for several reasons. In particular, Airbus opted to not go as wide as the 777 which kept the A350 at nine abreast for passenger comfort with wider seats by 5” which makes the 18″ wide seat a whole inch greater then competition. Additionally, the A350 cabin pressurization is at 6,000 feet, and the windows are larger with traditional window shades, making it less complicated than the 787 system.

Didier Evrard, EVP A350XWB Program, discussed some of the highlights of the A350 XWB program. One major highlight is that the A350-900 certification is the quickest it has taken Airbus to receive certification for a new aircraft.

Since the first flight in 2013, a family of five test aircraft have flown more than 2,800 hours over 680 flights which has helped Airbus deliver the A350 XWB on-time to its launch customer. The aircraft also participated in 26 route proving flights over 20 days, and Airbus proved that the A350 is capable of being turned around quickly for an on-time departure.

Rolls Royce President Eric Shultz, left, meets with HE Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, and Airbus CEO and President Fabrice Brégier after the formal delivery of the A350. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Evrad also provided some other updates. Currently, Airbus is at a production rate of two aircraft per month, but it will get up to ten aircraft per month by 2017. Additionally, The next 2 A350s customers will be Vietnam and Finnair. Qatar is due to be operating eight by the end of 2015.

Lastly, Evrad wrapped up his speech with some updates to the A350-1000 program. The first aircraft will be on the Final Assembly Line by in 2015, with first flight due in 2016. It’s still on track for its first delivery to occur in mid-2017. Currently, the -1000 variant has 169 orders from 9 customers.

Eric Schultz, Rolls-Royce President-Aviation, also made some remarks at the event. He said: “The Trent XWB is most efficient engine flying on a wide body in the world, and that people were so proud we had a parade when we sent out the first Trent XWB for installation.”

Airbus’ President and CEO speaking at a press conferences before the delivery ceremony. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Fabrice Bregier, President and CEO of Airbus, was proud to say that they delivered the A350 before the end of the year as promised. Earlier this month, Qatar Airways postponed delivery, but it was not clear what the issue initially was. Airbus executives stressed the aircraft was already at the Delivery Center and ready to go, but luckily, a few days later, Qatar said it would accept the first A350 delivery on December 22. According to Bregier, the delay was due to a small issue with an unnamed supplier.

Bregier went on to say: “Akbar you are a tough customer and very demanding but you are an architect for the A350. You will make it easier for other customers. You are the largest customer. We owe you a lot. You believed in us.” [image]

Although this was about the A350, Bregier did address the media about the A380 program. He said: “We are now in industrial phase. We will deliver 30 aircraft in 2015 thru 2017. We believe we can get more customers as the trend is In favor of A380. The idea of stopping it is crazy. We will continue and one day look for incremental improvements and a stretch version. It has a brighter future.”

HE Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, speaks during the first delivery of the Airbus A350XWB Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Lastly, HE Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar, addressed the media. He reminded the crowd that the A350 is the last all new large airliner for the decade, and he also explained that he is very proud to have launched it seven years ago with Airbus.

Al Baker also went on to say that the carrier is excited to take the A350 to London soon to show them just how quiet and environmentally friendly it is. Qatar will begin flying the A350 to Frankfurt in mid-January, and once more airframes are delivered, the airline will fly the A350 to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States then Europe and Asia.

Al Baker says: “We don’t become the best airline In the world by standing still. We have moved the goal posts with the A350, A380, and 787. When asked about other countries and airlines objecting to Qatar’s expansion, Al Baker responded pointedly: “Airlines who have an poor product in the past now have to compete. Airlines who have minted money in the past and didn’t invest should shut down (sic).”

Mr. Akbar Al Baker remarked: “Today marks a momentous occasion in the history of our airline. Not only are we welcoming a new aircraft type into the Qatar Airways fleet, but as global launch customer for the A350 XWB, we are receiving the newest and most modern aircraft that the world will see for at least another decade.”

“With our significant order as launch customer for 80 of this aircraft type, it has enabled Airbus to create an aircraft that not only considers every aspect of passenger comfort, but also features the cutting-edge light-weight carbon composite design, which in turn allows fuel consumption and noise to be reduced, along with many other leading features.

“I am confident that with our passenger insight, the aircraft that has today been welcomed into our fleet will be the footprint for all future aircraft design, both with regard to technological advancements and the passenger journey itself.”

The Delivery

At 12:00 PM local, the delivery ceremony of the first A350 XWB started. Enjoy the slideshow from the delivery ceremony which featured a live orchestra, The Toulouse Capital Symphony, a famous Arab opera performer, and an artist producing a piece of art live. Finally, the curtains swung open revealing the start of the show: Qatar’s Airbus A350 XWB.

This article originally appeared on AirwaysNews.

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