The successful initial airborne maneuvers of experimental test pilots Peter Chandler and Guy Magrin elicited immense relief and joy in Toulouse June 14. But the A350's first flight just three days ahead of this year's Paris air show also may well mark the end of an important chapter in aviation history.
The new Airbus long-haul aircraft, along with the, are likely to be the last all-new, large commercial aircraft from Western manufacturers in a very long time. While Airbus and will be busy with development programs for many years to come, they are focusing on derivatives such as the -10 launched last week, either having just delivered an all-new aircraft (the 787) or flight-testing one (the A350). The next all-new Western jet could be as much as two decades away, as the two airframers assemble their commercially successful and MAX offerings into the 2030s and work on further upgrades or stretches of the A350, 787 and 777.
The manufacturers argue that technology is not where it should be to warrant further all-new concepts and the market success of their current and planned aircraft seems to push the next moves further out, if anything. Just how receptive airlines are to the reengining and upgrading concept was demonstrated again by's launch here of its next-generation (see page 28) as well as the NEO and MAX orders Airbus and Boeing recorded during the show, mostly from low-fare carriers.
Eight years after the's first flight, Airbus is hoping to complete A350 flight tests and certification in 12-13 months. After an almost flawless first flight, Fernando Alonso, head of the Airbus flight-test center, says one of his challenges is “not to be overconfident.” Alonso, part of the A350 crew of six, describes the first flight as “totally uneventful” and “a little bit boring.”
A350 flight-test aircraft MSN001 spent 4 hr., 5 min. in the air on its initial flight. It climbed to 10,000 ft. in 8 min. and remained in the 10,000-15,000-ft. range for 2 hr., 48 min. while the crew tested the aircraft first in the most basic version of direct law and eventually in normal law.
“We went through sweeps to see how the structure reacts before we went to normal law,” Alonso says. Similar tests were performed in normal law after around 90 min., with data being checked against calculated models through telemetry. “Two hours after takeoff, we were in normal law with all configurations cleared,” Alonso says.
The crew engaged the autopilot for the last 5 min. of the cruise flight. The descent was also initiated in autopilot and autothrust mode, and buffeting effects were tested.
Back at 10,000 ft., an approach was simulated in full landing configuration, including a flare. Chandler and Magrin also went through a go-around procedure and decelerated down to a stall warning. While the two had built in some margin on takeoff speed, they took out that margin on landing and used brakes, reversers and spoilers as in routine operations.
The A350 performed its second flight June 19 and cleared the full envelope on a mission that lasted more than 5 hr. The aircraft climbed to 42,000 ft. and reached Mach 0.89, its maximum cruise speed, as well as its maximum angle of attack in normal law. Airbus planned to fly the aircraft over the Paris air show on June 21.
The start of the A350 flight-test program was not the only morale-booster for Airbus. The manufacturer received 466 additional orders and commitments here, 241 of which were firm. That takes the total firm orders to 758 for the year, just short of its goal of exceeding 800 in 2013. Airbus says it has been leading Boeing in the passenger widebody market over the past five years with a combined 820 orders for the, A350 and A380, compared to 587 for the , 767, 777 and 787.
The A380 program received a boon at the air show as well, with a memorandum of understanding for 20 aircraft from Doric Lease Corp., which plans to take delivery of them in 2016-21. These are the first A380 orders this year and, once firmed up, the Doric deal will be the largest for the program since Emirates ordered 32 units in 2010. Nevertheless, Airbus Chief Operating Officer for Customers John Leahy is not raising the target for 2013 (25 aircraft), although he concedes he might “sell a few more.”
Indeed, like Airbus itself, Doric is only betting on airlines to order the jet in significant quantities sooner or later, and it is now offering new leasing access to the aircraft. It remains to be seen if actual operators will pick up that opportunity in sufficient numbers. Leahy notes that leasing A380s through Doric will “take a lot of the risk out of the decision to order the A380. We see this is as a breakthrough in marketing the aircraft.”
Doric CEO Mark Lapidus says that “the economics [of the A380] are unbeatable” and will be “very competitive” even after the new efficient twins such as the A350 orbecome available. There will be 400 routes viable for aircraft seating 400 or more passengers by the year 2020, he argues, partly because of scheduling and airport constraints. “We are under-ordering if anything,” he says. “There is pent-up demand for this aircraft and we felt we needed to order now.”
As Airbus moves closer to introducing the A350, Boeing is further broadening its widebody offering in the medium-large twin segment. The long-anticipated 787-10 launch comes on the heels of 102 orders from five customers. Scott Fancher,vice president and general manager for airplane development, says launch of the proposed 777X is also “rapidly approaching,” perhaps by year-end. The first 787-10, the largest of the three 787 versions, is to be delivered in 2018.
Among the customers launching the program are Air Lease Corp. (30 aircraft),(30), (20), (12) and Capital Aviation Services (Gecas) (10). These are all new commitments, except 10 of the 20 United aircraft, rolled over from a previous 787 order and converted into the larger version.
The 787-10 is a 18-ft. stretch of the -9, allowing room for 40 more seats; Boeing says it will accommodate 300-330 passengers and have a range of 7,000 nm. Final assembly and flight tests are both to begin in 2017, with first delivery scheduled for 2018.
There have been concerns that, as a double-stretch of the original design, the -10's range might be insufficient for many carriers. And interestingly, none of the otherwise eagerly investing Persian Gulf carriers is part of the launch group—many of their routes are too long for the aircraft. But the increased range and slightly higher maximum takeoff weight of 553,000 lb. seem to have assuaged concerns. Reinforcements in the wing-to-body attachment area and on the landing gear were needed to accommodate the increased weight. Engine thrust will also be slightly higher than originally planned. “The range covers 97% of the widebody city pairs of the world,” Air Lease Corp. (ALC) Chairman/CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy points out. Its range will be 1,500 nm less than the -9's.
All of the 787-10 customers so far except Gecas have also ordered a version of the A350. United has 25 A350-900s on firm order; BA is taking 18 A350-1000s (plus options for 18 more); Singapore Airlines has firm orders for 40 A350-900s; and ALC has committed to taking 20 A350-900s and five -1000s. “That is a comment about the size of that market segment,” says Jeff Knittel, president of lessor CIT Transportation Finance. “The yields are still better and it is growing faster than short-haul.” Therefore “there is a demand for both aircraft.”
ALC is also working with Boeing on the 777X, but it is still too early for a launch decision, according to Udvar-Hazy. “It is still under design refinement,” he says. However, Boeing's Fancher says the 777X is “very firm in the configuration; the design is very mature.”
Boeing is marketing the 777-8X as a 777-300ER replacement and the longer 9-X to fill the existing capacity gap between the -300ER and the 747-8. Both aircraft will share an almost identical composite wing based on the technology experience gained on the 787. “The wing unlocks the efficiency of the airplane,” Fancher says, and he believes the “sweet spot” of the market will actually move to the 400 seats of the -9X from 300-350. The 777-8X is planned to offer a range of up to 9,400 nm, while the longer version will fly as far as 8,000 nm, the same as the 777-300ER.
Airbus says it is unimpressed with the proposed new competitor. “They will discover that a derivative will not compete with a clean-sheet design,” Leahy asserts. “I doubt that Boeing will ever build the aircraft of today. We don't respond to very heavy paper airplanes.”
Sukhoi's Su-35 stole the limelight at the show, demonstrating remarkable thrust-vectored maneuvers in the air. Watch the Russian fighter in action as our senior international defense editor, Bill Sweetman, explains its capabilities.
The Airbusalso took center stage at Le Bourget, flying daily in the air display and proving its performance promises.
Boeing stole some of the commercial spotlight from the Airbus A350 when it officially launched the double-stretched 787-10 at the show.
unveiled its new concept for the cockpit of the future, dubbed Avionics 2020. The OEM's head of innovation gave Aviation Week a demon-stration of the concept during the show.
Tap the icons in the digital edition of AW&ST to watch these videos from the Paris air show—and see more videos, photos and all our live coverage from Le Bourget at AviationWeek.com/paris2013