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Airbus A350-XWB

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Airbus Used Its Best Employees as Guinea Pigs for Its New Plane


For most people, a seven-hour flight that lands exactly where it departed from is a special kind of torture. But for nearly 250 Airbus employees, it was a reward for their hard work. Based on the photos, they were totally thrilled.

Airbus is most of the way through the long march to certification of the Airbus A350-XWB, the wide-body commercial jet it’s spent a decade working on. In the past year, four test planes have logged 1,600 hours. They’ve flown in extreme temperatures and at extreme altitudes and been hit with faux lightning strikes. An airframe built specifically for the purpose had its wings nearly broken in a machine that resembles a huge birdcage.

These tests prove the A350 is airworthy and safe, but they don’t reveal anything about how it feels to spend hours in the cabin, which is what really matters to the people who ultimately will use the planes.

Airbus selected about 250 of its very best employees (all of them recommended by their managers) to take a ride and share their thoughts. On Monday, the A350 took off from the Airbus assembly plant in Toulouse, France, flew over Oslo, and landed in Toulouse seven hours later.

The flight simulated a “real airline environment,” complete with a cabin crew borrowed from Air France. The passengers endured a standard boarding process and put their bags in the overhead bins (it’s not clear what they carried aboard. They received hot towels and were served what appears to be a good meal. On the entertainment systems, they played Sudoku, watched The Hobbit and The Big Bang Theory, and kept an eye on the flight map.

Afterward, they completed questionnaires, sharing their thoughts on everything from the in-flight entertainment system to how the storage bins worked. The crew reviewed the galleys, safety equipment, and their rest areas. The result was an airborne focus group that looked like a lot of fun. These people are rabid plane geeks, after all, and were the first passengers on an all-new airplane.

It was the first of two “Early Long Flights” planned this week; the second is a 12-hour overnight flight with a Lufthansa crew. Using employees as guinea pigs isn’t just a European thing. Boeing did the same while testing the 787-8 and 747-8.

The widebody A350 is the second commercial jet (after the Boeing 787 Dreamliner) made largely of composite material. That will make it 25% more fuel efficient than comparable older jets, Airbus says, a huge selling point for the cash-strapped airline industry. Airbus has taken 812 orders from 39 customers and expects to begin deliveries later this year.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 June 2014 23:09  

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