Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Rival to 787 swoops in

Airbus and Boeing are going head to head in the lucrative market for long-haul jets.

The Airbus A350 XWB
The Airbus A350 XWB

The latest Airbus has been frozen, subjected to super-hot temperatures, had its brakes jammed on until they reached 1400C and its wings bent to breaking point.

Now the new entry in the fierce battle between Airbus and Boeing - the Airbus A350XWB - is heading for Auckland from Sydney late tomorrow on a route-proving tour before being delivered to its first customer.

Its round-the-world flight gives Airbus the chance to check the performance before certification and to show it off to potential customers who are being spoiled for choice with new Airbus and Boeing's Dreamliner models in production or about to be launched.

The A350 can seat between 270 and 350 passengers and will compete against the Dreamliner and new versions of the Boeing 777. All are twin aisle, widebody planes competing in a cut-throat market in which airlines can play off the plane-makers against each other.

Of airlines serving New Zealand, Cathay Pacific has signed for the A350XWB (which stands for extra wide body), expects to start getting the planes in 2016 and the Hong Kong-Auckland route will be among the first on which it is used.

Air New Zealand - whose 10 Dreamliners are arriving - says the largest version of the A350 will be a candidate for evaluation later this decade as it looks to refresh its Boeing 777 fleet.

Air NZ's new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (pictured) is under competition from Airbus' new A350XWB - that's coming to Auckland on a promotional flight this week.
Air NZ's new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (pictured) is under competition from Airbus' new A350XWB - that's coming to Auckland on a promotional flight this week.

Singapore Airlines also has A350s on order.

Just like the Dreamliner, the A350 promises a big reduction in fuel burn through lightweight construction using carbon fibre and more efficient engines and added passenger comfort in its three different size models of the plane which is estimated to have cost the European aerospace conglomerate close to $17 billion to develop over eight years.

But, just like the Dreamliner, the new Airbus has been hit with delays, although not as severe as those that plagued Boeing.

Airbus has learned from Boeing's trouble. When the Dreamliner started having problems with its lithium-ion batteries Airbus reverted to more traditional powercell units.

While Airbus says there were 742 orders from 38 customers worldwide for the A350 at the end of June, the programme suffered a setback that month when Emirates scrapped a deal for 70 of the planes valued at around $18 billion. This month Hawaiian Airlines switched from the smallest version A350 to a new generation of the Airbus A330, the A330neo.

The A350 has been put through a battery of tests, including stalls and an aborted take-off at full speed and during the "maximum energy event" the brakes of the plane glowed red hot.

It has undergone extreme weather tests at a United States Air Force base in Florida during which it was subjected to temperatures up to a high of 45C and to lows of -40C.

So far the five-strong A350 test fleet has accumulated more than 540 flights and clocked up 2250 hours. The Auckland-bound plane is due to arrive about 7pm. It will be on the ground on Wednesday before flying on to Santiago in Chile.

Airbus is due to deliver the first A350 to Qatar Airways this year.

- NZ Herald

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