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Airbus Starts A350 Assembly Line as Wide-Body Contest Heats Up

Airbus SAS inaugurated the final assembly line for its A350 wide-body aircraft in Toulouse, France, ahead of the first test flight next year of the aircraft that will intensify competition with Boeing Co.

The opening of the factory, named Roger Beteille to celebrate one of Airbus’s founders, was attended by French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who reiterated his country’s commitment to the A350 program.

The A350 is Airbus’s attempt to gain a bigger slice of the large, twin-aisle airliner market, a segment now dominated by Boeing and its 777. Airbus, a unit of Toulouse-based European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co., was almost three years late on its most recent new model, the A380, which entered service in October 2007. Boeing was also three years behind schedule in getting its 787 into service.

The A350 has 558 firm orders from 35 customers, the majority for the mid-sized A350-900. The smaller A350-800 version and the larger A350-1000 variant aren’t scheduled for service until 2017. Airbus initially said the program would cost about 11 billion euros ($14.33 billion) to develop.

Airbus invested 140 million euros to build the A350 facility, which includes aircraft halls, offices, workshops and logistics areas, and as taxiways and roads. Airbus expects to ramp up to building 10 A350s a month by 2018.

The structure of the A350 is about 50 percent composite materials, compared with 25 percent on the A380. Airbus also makes the A380 jumbo and the A330 wide-body in Toulouse, while factories in both Toulouse and Hamburg assemble the A320 single-aisle models.

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