The Airbus A350, Europe's answer to Boeing's Dreamliner, took to the air for the first time yesterday, making its maiden flight out of Toulouse where it is assembled.
The plane's wings were designed at an Airbus facility at Filton near Bristol, and are made at Broughton in Wales. It is powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, which Airbus claims will help it achieve fuel savings of about 25 per cent over previous wide-bodied jets.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "The A350-XWB's maiden flight is significant for Airbus, Rolls-Royce and the aerospace industry – it shows the Government's long-term aerospace industrial strategy is the right approach to ensure the UK remains Europe' No 1 aerospace manufacturer."
Airbus has already taken more than 600 orders for the new plane; there have been 890 Dreamliner orders so far. First deliveries of the A350 are expected towards the end of 2014.
Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is largely built using lightweight composite materials to improve fuel consumption.
The maiden flight took place hours after the Japanese airline ANA cancelled a flight by one of its Dreamliners after an engine failed to start.
The Boeing aircraft has been plagued by a series of problems, with Japanese flights only restarting on 1 June after a four-month grounding following problems with the Dreamliner's batteries.
Watched by more than 10,000 employees and other spectators, the A350 took off under cloudy skies, with a crew of six wearing parachutes and orange jumpsuits.
The flight was scheduled to last four hours and caps eight years of development estimated to have cost $15bn (£10bn).