Friday, 25 November 2016

First Flight for the Airbus A350-1000

Posted on November 24, 2016

The first of three Airbus A350-1000 development aircraft to fly – MSN059 – successfully completed its first flight on November 24.

The round trip from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (IATA: TLS) lasted for four hours and 18 minutes.

The cockpit crew on board the flight comprised: Hugues Van Der Stichel, Experimental Test Pilot; Frank Chapman, Experimental Test Pilot and Gerard Maisonneuve, Test-Flight Engineer. Furthermore, monitoring all the test parameters at the Flight-Test-Instrumentation (FTI) station behind the cockpit were: Patrick du Ché, Head of Flight and Integration Tests; Emanuele Costanzo, Head of A350 Development Flight Tests; and Stéphane Vaux, Flight-Test Engineer.

Powered by Rolls-Royce’s new Trent XWB-97 engines, the aircraft traversed south-western France, during which the crew explored the aircraft’s handling and flight envelope. The airliner was accompanied by a chase aircraft to observe and film the various manoeuvres. Its progress was also monitored by experts on the ground in real-time via a direct telemetry link.

Benefitting from the experience of the original A350-900 test campaign (accomplished in 2014), Airbus says the A350-1000’s development programme will be shorter – under one year for the three aircraft. MSN059’s duties for performance testing will include exploration of the flight envelope, handling qualities, loads and braking. The second aircraft to fly, MSN071, will also be tasked with performance evaluation, which will encompass braking, powerplant, systems and autopilot. The third and final aircraft to fly – MSN065 – will be equipped with a cabin and will evaluate the cabin and air systems. MSN065 will also perform the “early long flights” and route-proving. The overall campaign will culminate in the type’s certification followed by its entry into airline service in the second half of 2017 with first operator Qatar Airways – the largest A350-1000 customer to date with 37 on order. To date 11 customers from five continents have placed orders for a total of 195 A350-1000s.

The Super Twin Battle: A350-1000 versus 777-9X

With the forthcoming launch of the 777-9 at the Dubai Air Show next month, the battle between the A350-1000 and 777-9 will be officially on, with two very different aircraft competing for the same market.  While there is discussion of another stretch to the A350 program to provide comparable capacity to the larger 777-9, we can compare today’s aircraft and examine their relative economics based on manufacturer projections and Piano models based on preliminary specifications.

The A350-1000
The A350-1000 is the largest of 3 models in the A350 family, with 350 seats in a typical three class configuration, with an 8,400 nautical mile range.  The A350 features carbon fiber composite structure and wings, and at 53% composites will have slightly more of the aircraft made of this material than the Boeing 787-9, which is 50% composites.  It features new technology Trent XWB engines from Rolls Royce with state-of-the art fuel efficiency, advanced aerodynamics, and state of the art systems.

The 777-9X
The 777-9 is a stretched version of the current 777-300ER with a new engine and new wing, along with other enhancements, to create an updated version of the 777, which delivered its 1,000th example earlier this year.  The 777-9X will feature an aluminum alloy fuselage with a carbon fiber composite wing, and new technology GE9X engines that are derived from the GE90 and GEnx families.  The wingspan for the 777-9 will be longer than any Boeing aircraft, and will include folding wingtips to enable the aircraft to utilize current gate positions at airports, as otherwise the new model would require gates typically used for A380 operations (which are currently quite limited at congested airports.)

Comparing the Aircraft
The following table compares the two aircraft on several key statistics, based on preliminary data prior to the 777-9X launch:
The A350 cabin width is larger than the 787 and smaller than the 777X.  The result is that a typical configuration in economy would be 9 abreast at 17 inch seat width for the 787, 9 abreast at 18 inch seat width for the A350, and 10 abreast using 17 inch seat width for the 777.  While the 777 is currently offered in 9 and 10 abreast seating, recent orders have trended to 10 abreast seating as airline seek to maximize seat-mile costs.

Both manufacturers are claiming class leading economics for their airplanes, but in reality, they are very, very close.  The 777-9 holds a 16% advantage in capacity, which directly impacts seat-mile costs, but the A350-1000 will have lower trip costs than its larger competitor.  Our estimates for a 6,000NM trip, based on preliminary specifications from airframe manufacturers, our own economic modeling, and data gleaned from airlines, are as follows:

With very comparable seat-mile costs, the A350-1000 and 777-9X will be competitive, and it will come down to how many seats an airline believes it can fill.  For those that can fill 400 seats, the 777-9 looks like a good alternative, for those that prefer a lower risk, the 350 seat A350-1000 is the right airplane.
The key question, as the OEMs continue to one up each other, is whether an A350-1100 stretch will be built. The A350-1100 would be an all new technology aircraft competing with a highly modified but derivative model, and should have both lower aircraft mile costs and lower seat mile costs than the 777-9.  A stretched A350 would also help to bridge the large gap in size between A350-1000 and A380-800.

We believe the A350-1100 will become a competitive necessity for Airbus.  With the A350-1000 due for EIS in 2017, and the 777-9X due in late 2019 or 2020, there is still time for Airbus to bring out an additional model in time to check the size advantage for Boeing.  As airlines are looking to larger twins to replace 747-400 with aircraft of similar capacity, the time is right for these “super-twins” in the marketplace.