Airbus Group flew the biggest version of its A350 wide-body jet for the first time Thursday, boosting the twin-engine model’s capacity.
This comes as the four-turbine Boeing Co. 747 and the European manufacturer’s own A380 superjumbo struggle to find buyers.
The A350-1000, which departed Airbus’s base in Toulouse, France, at 10:42 a.m. local time, seats 366 people in three classes, according to Bloomberg.
That’s just 44 fewer than the latest version of the 747, and with a vastly improved fuel burn thanks to the new aircraft’s two engines and composite construction.
So-called twinjet planes have become the mainstay of inter-continental travel, with the A350, the baseline version of which had its first commercial flight in 2015, following on from the slightly smaller Boeing 787.
Both models have built on inroads made by the U.S. company’s 777, which began eating into markets previously restricted to four-jet models fully two decades ago and seats 364 people in three classes with No. 1 operator Emirates of Dubai.
Zafar Khan, an analyst at Societe Generale in London, said the price of crude oil would need to drop “much lower” than $50 a barrel for four-engine planes to have a chance of a renaissance.
“As long as fuel prices remain at elevated levels then two-engine jets will clearly prevail,” he said.
Before the advent of the so-called “big twin” aircraft, older two-engine wide-bodies such as the 767 and A330 were limited to medium-haul markets such as the north Atlantic, partly because of practical limits on how far they could fly in the event of one turbine failing.
The 777 cast off those shackles by winning certification for flights as far as three hours from the nearest airport.
The standard A350-900 has US Federal Aviation Administration approval for up to five hours or 2,000 nautical miles of diversionary flying on a single engine, making possible trips from Southeast Asia and Australia to the US.
In a denser configuration the new model will be able to carry 440 people, less than 100 short of the A380’s standard 525-passenger payload, although the double-decker could accommodate as many as 800 seats in a single class.
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