When Airbus first started engineering the A350 back in 2004, it was more likely to be a modernized version of the A330 with new engines (like the ones the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is having). After low orders and lots of criticism, Airbus decided to design a completely new aircraft and announced the start of the A350 XWB program, which was announced at the 2006 Fanrborough Airshow. Since then the aircraft has come a long way and I was happy to spot one of the first examples at last year’s Berlin Air Show! It already wore hybrid colours of Airbus and Qatar Airways, the launch customer.
This aircraft made regular appearances at airshows after that and the time of test flights was soon over. After 2.600 test flight hours, Qatar Airways received its first example registered A7-ALA (c/n 006) on 22 December 2014 and used it for training and route proving flights in the weeks thereafter. With Qatar Airways being the launch customer and receiving the first six examples of the new type (with Vietnam Airlines and Finnair being the next in line), they had the honor of operating the very first scheduled passenger flight with their the new A350-900 on 15 January 2015.
The aircraft was quite early, but slowed down well before getting close to Frankfurt on its way from Doha. While the guests of the first flight were partying with the cabin crew on board and the pilots were preparing the approach, a large crowd of journalists was getting ready to witness the arrival of the A350 first-hand. I was lucky to be part of that group – here a couple of images from the meeting point at the Qatar Airways check-in counter and at parking position B43, were everybody was waiting…
Contrary to most airlines, the pilots opted for runway 25R in Frankfurt, which surely disappointed aviation enthusiasts that were waiting at the southern runway. The weather wasn’t the best either and it was hard to get any decent photo of the aircraft on final…
It took a while for the aircraft to appear on the apron due to the long taxi distance and several other airplanes that were “in the way”. Surprisingly Qatar Airways requested not to have a water cannon salute which is an old tradition in aviation – does that say something about how they do things or will it even bring bad luck to them? Anyway, here a some images of the aircraft while it was taxiing in:
Next stop was the press conference in the AirRail Center near the long-distance train station of Frankfurt Airport. Qatar Airways had set-up an impressive welcome center, but the room of the actual press conference was a bit small, especially for all the TV cameras. Airbus’ CEO Fabrice Brégier was very happy with the A350 performance and sales numbers and also expects the A380 program to have 30 deliveries or more per year in the coming years. It was also his first time in the A350 cockpit in flight. Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said he liked flying the new aircraft and that he regrets ordering the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. He also announced that Frankfurt will receive two daily flights on the A350 from March 1 in order to offer the best product consistently on this important route. He clearly wanted the A350 to be a statement against local legacy carriers… Lufthansa will receive its first aircraft in a couple of years only. The next destinations of the Qatar A350 will then be Singapore and some cities in the Middle East.
After some hazzle at security control journalists where then invited for a very brief visit to the Airbus A350 itself, giving them a 30 minute time slot to see the cabin and cockpit. But having more than 70 people in the aircraft proved to be a demanding task, especially with everybody trying to snap some pictures or take videos… Nevertheless I was able to meet the pilots of the upcoming Frankfurt-Doha flight and get a full look at the cabin. There is no First Class, but 36 Business Class and 247 Economy Class seats. A new feature of the A350 is that there are no compartments above the middle seats in Business Class, which gives the whole cabin a very spacious feeling. Here are the first impressions of the cockpit and interior and I will be uploading some more images as soon as possible!
It was definitely a great event and I am very happy I was able to take part in it – a big thank you goes to everybody involved in making it happen!