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The Airbus A350 made its first ‘public passenger’ flight test on June 12 2014, and Australian Business Traveller was on board.
As part of the annual Airbus Innovation Days 2014 media conference in Toulouse, France, Airbus took 150 aviation journalists on a special test flight of the company’s A350 aircraft.
This was the first test flight of the A350 to carry members of the public, ahead of the year’s end debut of the first A350 commercial flight with launch airline Qatar Airways.
Australian Business Traveller has already been inside this particular Airbus A350 – dubbed MSN002 (the letters stand for Manufacturer Serial Number) – as part of the official reveal of the A350’s cabin.
This first public test flight spent an hour in the skies above southwestern France – and with clear blue skies and the mercury relaxing around 25 degrees C (77 degrees F), it proved the perfect day for a joyride in this next-generation jetliner.
The journey – which carried the official flight number of AIB31CF – began and ended at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse.
The Airbus Delivery Centre is a self-contained terminal, complete with its own checkin desks, luggage belts and security gates, from which airlines fly away in their factory-fresh Airbus jets.
In the interests of fairness, Airbus held a lottery draw for the A350’s prized business class seats.
Australian Business Traveller lucked out, ending up back in economy.
Way back in economy, actually.
But we had no complaints about the view from our window – the futuristic yet elegant curve of the A350's wingtip.
This also gave us a good chance to try out the A350’s much-trumpeted 18 inch wide seats in its standard 3-3-3 layout, which proved very comfortable – although Airbus admits that at least one airline has ordered the A350 with a tighter-squeeze 10 across layout (3-4-3) where the seat width comes back to 17 inches.
Shortly behind us and overhead, as it turns out, was the crew rest area, which contains eight bunks and spans from row 40 (in this two-class A350 seating layout) to the rear of the aircraft.
We weren’t able to poke around this loft space but it’s likely to be similar to that of the Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The A350 was fitted with a basic inflight wifi system but Airbus chose to switch this off for the test flight because 150 journalists all looking to live tweet photos of the special flight (which had its own hashtag of #A350Xperience) would likely bring the system to its knees.
As with our first visit into the cabin of this A350, the sense of overall space is undeniable.
The main cabin of the A350’s extra wide fuselage feels more spacious than the Boeing 787, although the windows aren’t as large as those of Boeing’s Dreamliner and the interior doesn’t quite have the 787’s futuristic vibe, especially around the entryway.
However, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 share other mod cons such as large overhead bins and multicoloured LED lighting.
Another interesting touch in the A350 are the digital overhead displays, which use animations and change their messaging at various stages of the flight.
As this was a passenger flight, each seat also came with an Airbus-issued A350 safety card.
Our flight was wheels-up from the Airbus runway at 10.55am, and take-off showcased how quiet the A350 is – it’s in the same league as an A380.
The flight plan took us from Airbus headquarters and the A350’s home at Toulouse to skirt along the edge of The Pyrenees mountains, which mark the border between France and Spain.
And as you'd expect, the views were stunning.
The A350’s wing flexes up to three metres in flight.
With this special flight underway, journalists were quick to their feet to take snaps, grab interviews with Airbus tech crew and generally make the most of this rare experience.
Partway through the flight we had up a visitor – a Dassault Rafale fighter jet from the French Air Force, practising intercept manoeuvres.
(We’re told the Rafale would normally close to within 100 metres of the A350, but has to keep its distance to 500 metres because our A350 flight was carrying passengers.)
As you’d imagine, the approach of the Rafale sent scores of camera-toting journalists to the windows to try and catch that shot.
Meanwhile, engineers monitored the A350’s vital signs – this was still a test flight, after all – while answering journalist's questions about the process.
After almost an hour in the air and doing two loops skirting The Pyrenees, the first passenger-carrying A350 flight touched down at Toulouse at 11.48am.
Australian Business Traveller is attending the 2014 Airbus Innovation Days media conference in Toulouse as a guest of Airbus.
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