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New Airbus A350 comes through first test flight

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Airbus's next-generation A350 plane landed safely in southern France after its first test flight Friday, AFP reporters said.

After just over four hours in the air, the new plane touched down to cheers from Airbus employees and hundreds of aviation enthusiasts who had assembled on a nearby hill to watch the landmark flight.

The successful initial test flight, from a small airport near Toulouse, will have come as a huge relief to everyone involved in the European manufacturer, which is relying on the A350 to help it keep pace with US rival Boeing.

Much like its competitor -- Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner that has been in service since September 2011 -- the A350 makes extensive use of light composite materials that significantly reduce fuel consumption and costs.

Friday's test flight came three days before the start of the high-profile Paris Air Show, where Airbus is predicting hundreds of orders.

"I'm known to be sometimes a bit cold-blooded. I can tell you today it was really emotional," said Fabrice Bregier, head of Airbus.

"This is our baby and I'm very pleased to see such a nice baby. Thank you to all of you, I love you," he said, before jokingly telling the reporter he was talking to: "Not you!"

A British and a French test pilot were at the helm of the A350 on its maiden flight, assisted by a flight engineer in the cockpit and three other engineers at the back, all wearing orange jumpsuits.

"The aircraft is performing extremely well," said Peter Chandler, one of the test pilots, two hours into the flight as he flew over the nearby Pyrenees mountains, staying close to home in the region of Toulouse.

On the ground, Frank Chapman, one of Friday's reserve test pilots, said a year-long test flying period would now kick off.

More than 10,000 hours of ground tests had already been done on the airliner before the flight, and over the next year a total of five test planes will criss-cross the globe in the warmest and coldest regions, at low and high speed.

If all goes well, first delivery is expected at the end of 2014. Confirmed customers so far include Qatar Airways, British Airways and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130614/new-airbus-a350-comes-through-first-test-flight