Today’s June 14th 2013 marked a pivotal moment in Airbus industry history as its newly designed A350XWB airplane took to the sky for the first time. The innovative twin engine wide body aircraft is conceived to be highly fuel efficient (25% lower burn than current technology) would allow the European plane manufacturer to challenge head-on Boeing’s state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner. The test aircraft registered as F-WXWB landed at Toulouse Blagnac field at 2:05pm local time after having departed at 10:00 am local time. The crew of six operating the flight comprised the two test pilots accompanied by four test flight engineers, one of whom was assigned to monitoring the performance of the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines powering the aircraft. The flight testing program which has officially been initiated by today’s 4 hours and 5 minutes’ duration flight will be strengthened as another four aircraft are added. This will take the type through the projected 2,500 flight hours needed prior to gaining European (EASA) and US (FAA) certification. By late 2014, Qatar Airways is programmed to officially become the first carrier to receive one of the 613 aircraft ordered to date by some 33 customers.
Innovative Engine Designs
The two Rolls Royce Trent XWB high bypass turbofan engines that power the A350XWB play a significant role in delivering the astounding 25% reduction in both fuel consumption and CO2 emission. The sole engine selected by Airbus to power the type, the Trent XWB will equip the three variants A350-800 /-900/ -1000 within specifically designated thrust class. The Trent engines highly efficient design approach emphasizes lighter weight and advanced aerodynamics concepts such as the use of compressor blisk (bladed disk), and contra-rotation operation mode. They are made of completely new materials whose availability is due to the use of advanced manufacturing technology. The Trent XWB engine is also made to be environmentally friendly, it emits much lower NOx (nitrogen oxide), smoke, CO (carbon monoxide) and hydrocarbons. It is also benefit carriers with a very quiet operation rated at 15 EPNdb Effective Perceived Noise decibel.
Lightweight Composite Materials
The new aircraft fuselage benefits from a lower relative weight by virtue of being constituted at 53% from advanced composite materials such as carbon fiber. Being made of ‘plastic’ can make the plane more resistant to general fatigue due to cyclical operations and exposure to the elements.
The state of the art cockpit presents integrated aircraft operating functions to six flight displays for the two pilots. The cockpit provides continuity in the line of the A380 series cockpit for which Rockwell Collins provides most of the equipment: on board information management systems for advanced health monitoring and diagnostics for maintenance and sustainable operation purpose, communication systems, According to Rockwell Collins: “The Multi-Mode Receiver provides Instrument Landing System and GPS Landing System capabilities and Space Based Augmentation System, as well as the aircraft’s position, velocity and time reference “ and also: “The Digital Radio Altimeter provides precise height measurements above terrain during aircraft approach, landing and climb-out phases of flight. This information is provided to the automatic flight control system, instrument system and terrain awareness and warning system.” Part of the on board systems packaged by Rockwell Collins feature the ADF-900 Automatic Direction Finder, the DME-2100 Distance Measuring Equipment, the VOR-900 VHF Omnidirectional Radio receiver and the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF-900). The flight avionics system data communication network relies on AFDX protocol.
The Market Landscape
Airbus offers three variants of its new A350 XWB aircraft the -800, -900 and -1000.
-Typically A 3-class configured A350-800 XWB would carry 270 passengers at ranges of 8,500 nm or 15,750 km. The A350-800 length is 198 ft 7 in or 60.54 m. The two ultra efficient Rolls Royce Trent engines provide each 79,000 lbs or 337 kN of thrust. The aircraft wingspan is 212 ft 5 in (64.75 m). Airbus has received 89 orders for this variant.
-The A350-900 variant of whom 414 aircraft have been ordered measures 219 ft 5 in or 66.89 m in length. This variant seats 314 passengers in the same baseline 3-class cabin configuration and have a same wingspan of 212 ft 5in (64.75 m) as the -800. This aircraft can operate on 15,000 km (8,100 nm) long trip. The Trent engines mounted to the -900 are rated in the 84,000 lbs slst (374 kN) thrust class.
-The A350-1000 is the biggest variant of the family for which 110 orders have been received. It is large enough to carry 350 passengers. At 242 ft 5 in or 73.78 m in length, this is the ultimate stretch variant for the A350XWB. Thrust provided by two 97,000 slst (432 kN) class RR XWB Trent can power the -1000 far out to ranges of 8,400 nm (15,600 km).
Boeing eminently successful current 777-300ER with its length of 242 ft 4in (73.9 m) can in fact fall within range of the A350-1000 payload and performance capabilities. Boeing giant twin engine is conceived to carry up to 386 passengers in 3 class at ranges of 7,930 nm (14,690 km). This has provided Boeing with enough reason to launch a newer and larger version of the very successful 777 that will address such concerns by adding payload or range, while improving basic operating economics. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the meantime with its length of 186 feet (or 57 m) for the 787-8 when configured for 210 passengers in 3-class is a much smaller aircraft. The stretched 787-9 variant that can accommodate 290 passengers on 8,500 nm (15,750 km) long trip and upcoming 320-seats 787-10 320 seats offer better payload. Overall Boeing would be content just replacing the aging 767 line (-200/-300/-400) with the much smaller 787 family, the 890 orders to date prove it. The A350XWB instead is more akin to a highly fuel efficient A330 replacement. The 63.69 m (208 ft 11in) -long A330 that typically seats 295 passengers fits right between the A350 XWB -800 and -900 dimension. This may be a market segment where operator can not only benefit from the A350XWB 25% fuel reduction but also open new city pair route that were previously out of reach for the A330. With 1,200 units (-200/-300) sold and many more than 20 years old, the A330 seems to have found a potent in-family successor.