The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

21 June 2014

Ethiopia: Airbus Says A350 Test Flights On Track

Toulouse France The European Aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, announced that the flight test program on its new jetliner, A350XWB, is right on track for certification. At the annual Airbus media day, Airbus Innovation Days 2014, held on June 11-12 in Toulouse, France, Didier Evrard, executive vice president of the A350 programme, told journalists that the flight test program was going ahead on schedule.

According to Evrard, Airbus built four test aircrafts that are conducting 80 flight hours per month per aircraft. "Though there are things that still keep me awake, I am more than satisfied with the test results we achieved so far. Things are going well for certification. But we have a lot of things to do ahead of us," he told journalists. Powered by the Rolls Royce Trent Engines, the Airbus A350XWB is known for its spacious cabins. The new jetliner will be a rival of the Boeing B787 Dreamliner aircraft. The A350 family has 800, 900 and 1000 versions with 250-350 seats. The aircraft will be certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before it gets into commercial flight service. Qatar Airways is the launch customer of this new jetliner. According to Airbus, if everything goes according to schedule it will deliver the first A350 to Qatar Airways at the end of this year.

The A350, also known as extra wide body, is conducting its test flight at the Blagnac Airport in Toulouse where the Airbus Final Assembly (FAL) is located. The aircraft, monitored by dozens of test pilots and flight engineers, conducted water injection tests, high altitude flight tests, in Colombia, hot weather flight tests in the Middle East and cold weather flight tests in North America. The new jetliner has accumulated 1,905 flight hours.

"The flight rate achieved has been quite remarkable," Fernando Alonso, Airbus senior vice president flight and integration tests said. "It has been way, way beyond our expectations from our experience with previous test programmes. We are going twice as fast as we have before," Alonso said. Airbus surprised more than 200 aviation journalists gathered for the event from all parts of the world by flying them on board one of the test aircrafts. Ethiopian Airlines is the first carrier from sub-Saharan Africa to order the A350 aircraft at the Dubai Air show in 2009. Ethiopian placed firm orders for 14 A350-900 valued at three billion dollars. Ethiopian will take delivery of the first A350 in 2016.

Tewolde Gebremariam, Ethiopian CEO, told The Reporter that he hoped that the A-350 will deliver all that was promised by Airbus when Ethiopian placed the order. "The fleet will play an important role in our fast, profitable and sustainable growth strategy. The airplane's seat capacity will be slightly bigger than our B-777-200LR fleet but it will have a shorter range. We expect quantifiable unit operating cost reductions. It will have amazing cabin interior features for our customers. Hence, we are looking forward to taking the delivery and operating it in our system in 2016," Tewolde said.

Ethiopian is the fastest growing airline in Africa with a young fleet of 67 aircrafts. It has 34 aircraft in its order book. The airline will double its fleet by 2025. The national flag carrier was the third in the world, next to two Japanese airlines (All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines) to acquire and operate the Dreamliner aircraft. Ethiopian has become - for the first time in its 69-year history - the largest African carrier with revenue topping 2.3 billion dollars in 2013 in profit, according to the airline ranking of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published in the 58th edition of World Air Transport Statistics. According to IATA annual airlines ranking, Ethiopian is first in Africa and 37th in the world in revenue as well as first in Africa and 18th in the world in operating profit. "I am quite happy with the growth of the African airline industry," John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer, customers, said. "It took so long to reach here but now the African airline industry is doing well." Airbus is also developing another new jetliner, A320NEO, which Ethiopian Airlines is currently evaluating. The first test flight of the A320NEO is slated for September 2014.

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