Airbus A350
Guests and employees attend the Airbus A350-1000 maiden flight event in Colomiers near Toulouse, Southwestern France REUTERS/Regis DuvignauREUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Europe's largest twin-engined passenger jet, the Airbus A350-1000, took to the skies for the first time on Thursday, seeking to grab the spotlight from Boeing's popular 777.

The lightweight carbon-fibre plane, 7 metres longer and able to carry 40 more people than A350s already in service, began a three-hour debut flight at 0942 GMT, watched by some of the airline bosses who have invested in the $356 million jet.

It later returned to base after a 4 hour and 20 minute flight during which co-pilot Frank Chapman said it had performed "smoothly", similar to its sister plane the A350-900.

The 366-seat A350-1000 is designed to break Boeing's virtual monopoly in the lucrative "mini-jumbo" segment, typically involving large twin-engined jets carrying 350 people.

It is larger than the new-generation A350-900, which entered service last year. Both are built from similar advanced materials to Boeing's mid-sized 787 Dreamliner in a race between planemakers for fuel savings and better passenger comfort.

The aircraft involved in Thursday's Toulouse debut is one of three test planes facing 1,600 hours of intensive flight testing before the A350-1000 enters service in the second half of 2017.

It is powered by the Trent XWB engine, manufactured by Rolls-Royce. The engine is capable of out-putting 97,000 lbs of thrust.

Airbus

According to the USA Today, Airbus anticipates the jet will deliver to launch customer Qatar Airways late next year, following a full year of flight testing.

The airplane is the latest installment in Airbus' A350 program, first launched in 2006. Qatar Airways became the first carrier to take delivery of an A350 in late 2014.

The jets are manufactured with lightweight carbon-fiber composite materials instead of the more traditional aluminum, allowing for greater fuel efficiency and more flier-friendly features, such as larger windows and lower cabin humidity.

So-called twinjet planes have become the mainstay of inter-continental travel, with the A350, the baseline version of which had its first commercial flight in 2015, following on from the slightly smaller Boeing 787, Bloomberg reported.

Both models have built on inroads made by the US company's 777, which began eating into markets previously restricted to four-jet models fully two decades ago and seats 364 people in three classes with No 1 operator Emirates of Dubai.

Zafar Khan, an analyst at Societe Generale in London, told Bloomberg that the price of crude oil would need to drop "much lower" than $50 a barrel for four-engine planes to have a chance of a renaissance.

"As long as fuel prices remain at elevated levels then two-engine jets will
clearly prevail," he said.

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