Airbus A350 set for maiden flight

Airbus A350 set for maiden flight

The newest aircraft from European planemaker Airbus is due to take off on its maiden flight later.

The Airbus A350 is designed to be more fuel-efficient, and a direct competitor to US rival Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

It is seen as vital to the future of Airbus, which competes with Boeing to supply the majority of the world's airlines with new planes.

It is due to take off from the French city of Toulouse, where the A350 is assembled, on Friday morning.

The plane will take a short trip to carry out tests, and then land back at Toulouse again.

Boeing's Dreamliner has proved popular since its first flight in 2009, despite recently being grounded by regulators over safety fears relating to its batteries.

Major milestone
Airlines are being squeezed by high fuel costs and falling passenger numbers, and are looking for more fuel-efficient aircraft.

Airbus claims the A350, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, will use about 25% less fuel than previous generation wide-bodied aircraft.

Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is made largely of advanced materials, particularly carbon composites, in order to save weight.

Airbus has already taken more than 600 orders for the new plane. But that still puts it behind the Dreamliner, which has 890 orders so far.

The company hopes to start delivering the first A350s to customers by the end of 2014.

Analysts say a successful test flight would be a major milestone for Airbus in the A350 project, with major aircraft manufacturing projects frequently beset by delays.

"All recent programmes before it, both by Airbus, Boeing and others, have had reasonably horrendous technical problems and delays," said Nick Cunningham, an aviation analyst at the London-based Agency Partners, speaking to French agency AFP.

"So every time you hit a milestone (such as a test flight), it's good news because it means that you've missed an opportunity to have another big delay."

The plane's wings were designed at an Airbus facility in Filton near Bristol, and are manufactured at Broughton in Wales.