When Boeing announced the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus didn’t immediately respond as they took this to be Boeings’ reaction to the Airbus A330. When it became evident that the Boeing 787 would be a far more advanced aircraft in its systems and use of composite materials, Airbus proposed a modernisation of the Airbus A330. This would have been called the A330 200 Lite with redesigned wings and engines of the new generation as offered by the Boeing 787.
This offering was nipped in the bud very quickly by Airbus prospective customers and was never announced at the Farnborough Airshow in 2004 as intended. They demanded an all new aircraft, a completely new design from the ground up.
Airbus A350 History Timeline
16 September 2004: Noel Forgeard, Airbus President and CEO, intimated that a new project was under consideration but failed to give a name to it. No clarity was given to whether this was to be a derivative design or a clean slate new concept design. Airbus customers were clearly not satisfied, so Airbus committed EUR4 Billion to the new A350 project. Still resembling the A330, particularly the fuselage, the new design incorporated new wings and horizontal stabilisers, as well as new composite materials and manufacturing methodology. Essentially it was a new aircraft design now.
10 December 2004: The EADS board as well as the BAe board, who were at that time shareholders of Airbus, voted to give Airbus an Authorisation To Offer (ATO), and gave the designation of A350.
06 October 2005: Airbus officially began the industrial launch of the project with an estimated development cost of EUR3.5 Billion. The design was for a twin engine wide body jet capable of seating 250 to 300 passengers in a fuselage which was still very similar to that of the A330. Wings and engines were to be redesigned but the construction would still be aluminium-lithium (Al-Li) as opposed to the carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) used on the Boeing 787. Airbus would offer two versions of the A350:
-The A350-800 would be capable of flying 8,800 nm (16,300 km) with a typical passenger load of 253 in a 3-class configuration.
-The A350-900 would be capable of flying 7,500 nm (13,900 km) with a typical passenger load of 300 in a 3-class configuration
28 March 2006: Airbus was severely taken to task by International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), Singapore Airlines and many other industry heavyweights over their proposed A350. It was seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the Boeing 787 and this could only lead to a loss of market share to Boeing who was seen to be leading the technology charge. CEO Gustav Humbert indicated that Airbus was not looking for quick solutions and was looking for solutions, not for the short term but ones that would take aviation into the future.
14 July 2006: Once again at the Farnborough Airshow Airbus announced the new completely redesigned aircraft would be designated the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body). There was rumour that the new aircraft would be designated the A370, or even the A280. This could have been fueled by an erroneous advertisement run by Airbus on the Financial Times website. Within a few days, an order was placed by Singapore Airlines for 20 of the new jet with options for 20 more. Airbus received accolades for coming up with a completely new design for the A350.
September 2006: Qatar Airways signs with General Electric to provide the GEnx-1A-72 for the Airbus Industries A350 XWB.
01 December 2006: Delays with the Airbus A380 program meant that the board of Airbus did not finally approve the development of the A350 until this date. Airbus resources were very stretched at this time and the go ahead was still not a certainty. Finally, the decision was reached to fund the development from cash flow, and the go-ahead was given for the first delivery of the A350 900 XWB in mid-2013, the first A350 800 XWB in 2014 and the A350 1000 XWB in 2015.
04 December 2006: Some new details of the design were released to the public. It was also revealed that re-negotiations were taking place with existing order holders due to the increased cost of the redesigned A350 XWB.
04 January 2007: Airbus announces that a firm order for 2 aircraft had been placed by Pegasus Aviation Finance Company.
The change to the design of the A350 XWB caused an extra two years to be added to the development program. As a result, the estimated development costs doubled from EUR5.5 Billion to almost EUR10 Billion. Airbus stressed that the first delivery dates would remain unchanged; however, first flights would be delayed. The testing program would be reduced from 15 months to 12 months.
September 2007: At a gathering of around 100 existing and potential customers of the A350, Airbus presented the design advances of the new aircraft.
January 2008: Thales Group wins the contract to provide avionics for the A350, a EUR2 Billion contract over 20 years.
12 November 2010: Airbus announces that the first delivery date would slip from mid-2013 to late 2013 due to complexities of moving from the design to manufacturing phases.
29 December 2011: The first forward fuselage section was delivered to the factory.
05 April 2012: Construction and assembly of the first static A350 model is started.
14 June 2013: Maiden flight of the A350. At Toulouse-Blagnac airfield with thousands of spectators and Airbus employees looking on, the A350 XWB made its maiden flight. The four-hour flight was undertaken by a team of six wearing orange jump suits and parachutes flying over the Pyrenees Mountains. Chief Test Pilot Peter Chandler reported from 13,000 feet that the aircraft was handling extremely well. Much of the testing was focused on the flaps and landing gear. The first stage of the flight was conducted with the landing gear extended.
The timing of the maiden flight was no accident with the Paris Airshow set to begin on Monday 17 June. Airbus now had the maiden flight under their belt as they prepared to go head to head with the Boeing 787. The order book for the A350 stands at 616, which includes an order for 50 units from Singapore Airlines received during this month.
21 June 2013: Toward the end of its third test flight, the aircraft with in-house designation MSN1 made its first public appearance when it made a show-stopping entrance at the Paris Airshow around 13:30. The A350 XWB made a pass down the Le Bourget main show runway to thunderous applause from the crowd. The aircraft then gracefully climbed into cloud and was gone.
29 July 2013: A virtual commercial flight of 5 hours was conducted on the ground in Hamburg. 129 passengers, 2 pilots and 8 cabin crew took part in em-planing, deplaning and normal in-flight activities as part of early testing of the human factors of flight.
14 October 2013 The second A350 XWB test aircraft with in-house designator MSN3 took to the skies from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport France at around 14:30. Like MSN1 the aircraft was devoid of a cabin interior but carried heavy testing equipment instead.
15 January 2015 The first commercial service of the Airbus Industrie Airbus A350 XWB was flown from Doha to Frankfurt.
25 September 2015 Construction starts on the first A350 1000. The forward fuselage section built by Premium AEROTEC in Germany will be delivered to Airbus in Saint-Nazaire.
24 November 2016 The A350 1000 stretched version takes to the air for its maiden flight at 10:42am from Toulouse Le Blagnac airfield. The test flight lasted just over four hours and begins the giant A350’s rigorous certification program.