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Airbus challenges Boeing: New A350 takes off on maiden flight from Toulouse

More than half of the plane is made up of lightweight carbon-fibre

The Airbus A350, Europe’s answer to Boeing’s Dreamliner, took to the air for the first time today, 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% over previous wide-bodied jets.

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’s number one 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 Japanese airline ANA cancelled a flight by one of its Dreamliners after an engine failed to start.

The Dreamliner has been hit by a series of problems, with Japanese flights only restarting on 1 June after a four-month grounding following problems with its 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 $15 billion (£9.6 billion). “The first flight is a very special moment in an aerospace company,” said Tom Enders, chief executive of parent company Eads.

The firm is hoping to pick up more orders for its first new plane in eight years at next week’s Paris Air Show.

But Boeing is expected to confirm at the same show that it will build a  larger capacity Dreamliner, to carry up to 323 passengers. The current version can carry between 210 and 290 passengers.

Video: New Airbus 350 takes off