TOULOUSE, France -- Airbus flew its new A350-1000 wide-body jet for the first time on Thursday, The jet, the largest twin-jet airplane the European aerospace company has ever made, took off from Airbus’ headquarters near the French city of Toulouse. It's the largest and latest variant of the company's flagship A350 line of jetliners.
The aircraft took off from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 10:42 a.m. local time (4:42 a.m. ET), flying for several hours over southern France before returning.
The A350-1000 will seat between 366 and 440 passengers, depending on the configuration airlines choose for it. Its range of 7,950 miles will enable the jet to connect cities like Boston and Shanghai or Los Angeles and Manchester, England, according to Airbus.
BOOKMARK: Bookmark Today in the Sky homepage for your daily fix of aviation news
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 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.
In addition to the newly added -1000 series, the A350 family also includes a smaller -900 version. The -900 seats around 325 passengers in a standard configuration and can fly 200 miles further than the larger -1000. The -900 first took to the skies in 2013, and entered commercial passenger service in early 2015 when Qatar Airways deployed the jet on its route between Doha, Qatar and Frankfurt.
The first flight of the -1000 is also the latest bid in an ongoing battle for sales in the twin-engine long-haul jet market, a segment that Boeing has dominated for decades.
The two airplane-makers have increasingly attempted to one-up one another in recent years, each trying to outdo the other with ever-larger and more-efficient airplanes.
Airbus' A350-1000 is aimed squarely at dethroning one of Boeing's most popular products, the 777-300, which has sold 809 frames to date. Airbus says the A350-1000 is 25% more fuel efficient and 30 tons lighter than the venerable Boeing jet.
“The -1000 has killed the 777-300ER,” said Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier during an interview on Thursday. “What we wanted has been achieved, without having even demonstrated it in flight,” he added, noting the performance capabilities of the -1000.
Boeing has already responded in force to the A350-program, launching the 777X program in 2013. The three-strong family of 777-revamps include two versions (777-9X and 777-10X) that carry more than 400 passengers in a three-class configuration – quite a bit more than the A350-1000.
Bregier believes the 777-9X's increased capacity works against the airplane instead of for it.
“It's not that there is a market pushing for a bigger aircraft,” he said, noting that Boeing's larger airplane has not sold especially well since its launch. “They need to add seats to justify the cost per seat,” to stay competitive with the A350-1000, he said Thursday.
Yet many industry watchers are not convinced. Talk has swirled for months, including in Toulouse, that the -1000 was not large enough capacity-wise to compete with the 777X.
At least on Thursday, Airbus was not having it.
“It's much too early today, and I'm not convinced that there will be a large market,” Bregier said. “We would look at the market and the business case. And I can tell you we're far away from that,” he said.
Airbus has 195 firm orders for the A350-1000 with eleven airlines, and 810 for the A350 program as a whole. Airbus is hoping that further sales of the -1000, along with the -900 and a revamped A330 program dubbed the A330neo, will help the company in its quest to capture 50% of the large jet market.
Bregier said separately that a project for a so-called "A350-800" was on hold.
The jet was originally slated to be a smaller, longer-range version of the original -900. But it had not been selling well, which Breigier and other executives claimed was a result of the A350-900 Ultra Long Range (ULR) -- another new A350 variant expected to launch with Singapore Airlines in 2018 -- and the cheaper, similarly sized A330neo program.
“If we want to deliver a good -800 [airplane] we need more time; we will continue to work out an improved solution for the -800,” Bregier said.
Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is a Seattle-based photojournalist and aviation writer and a contributor to Ben Mutzabaugh's Today in the Sky blog. You also can follow Jeremy on Twitter at @photoJDL
IN PICTURES: Airbus just delivered its 10,000th aircraft - an A350 to Singapore Airlines
IN PICTURES: A look at the Airbus 'Beluga' super transport aircraft
IN PICTURES: Qatar Airways takes delivery of its first Airbus A350
The first Airbus A350-1000 takes off on its maiden flight at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport in France on Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Special for USA TODAY)