Airbus Names First A350 Flight Pilots as Countdown Begins

Airbus SAS has nominated the pilots and engineers who will conduct the first test flight of the new A350, signaling the countdown to the wide-body aircraft’s maiden voyage may be just a matter of days.

The first flight will have a crew of six, including two test pilots and a project test-flight engineer who will sit in the cockpit, Airbus said. Three additional flight test crew members, all experimental flight test engineers, will work at dedicated stations on the plane to manage the flight’s progress.

The first take-off will mark the beginning of more than nine months of testing, in which pilots put the aircraft through increasingly complex maneuvers to ensure its airworthiness and safety. The first plane doesn’t carry passengers, and is stuffed with computers and equipment to record performance data.

A first flight in coming weeks would be a public-relations coup for Airbus ahead of the Paris Air Show, the year’s biggest aviation expo, which starts June 17. While the organizers haven’t confirmed the plane’s appearance at the event, Airbus may choose a so-called “fly-by” if civil aviation authorities give it clearance.

Airbus has routinely said the maiden flight is set for the middle of the year, without committing to a specific date. Tom Enders, the chief executive officer of Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., told shareholders at the annual general meeting on May 29 that he was “quite confident” about a flight in coming weeks.

The long-range A350 is designed to take on both Boeing Co.’s twin-engine wide-body models, with the 300-seat A350-900 - - the first to fly -- and the smaller A350-800 competing with the 787 Dreamliner and the 777-200. The A350-1000, seating 350, is a challenger to the 777-300ER and new 777X. The mid-sized A350 version costs $287.7 million at list price.

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