POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 15, 2013
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 reputations of the powerful plane-makers.
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 important, it then landed safely.
It met ear-to-ear smiles — and some sighs of relief — among the Airbus engineers and executives who helped the plane reach its maiden journey.
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.
"At the end of the day, you need to make it real, and this is the time for making it real. So I am very proud already," Didier Evrard, head of the A350 program, said while watching the flight. "But I will be still nervous until it comes back."
Airspace over Toulouse, where Airbus has its headquarters, closed for both takeoff and landing.
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.