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Airbus Wins European Approval For Its New A350 Jet


Planemaker Airbus won European safety approval on Tuesday for the A350, clearing the main regulatory hurdle before its newest and most technically advanced jet can start flying passengers.

The European Aviation Safety Agency said Airbus, the planemaking unit of Airbus Group, had proved the jet's airworthiness in more than 60,000 hours of certification work including 250 hours spent with safety inspectors in the air.

“We dealt with a very mature aircraft,” EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said.

The version of the jet certified by EASA on Tuesday, the A350-900, is designed to seat 314 passengers and is due to enter service with Qatar Airways before the end of the year in direct competition with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.

A larger model, the 350-seat A350-1000, which targets the “mini-jumbo” market occupied by the Boeing 777, is due to enter service in 2017 after a separate safety certification process.

Development of a smaller model, the A350-800, has been effectively halted due to weak demand, prompting Airbus recently to upgrade its older A330 to address the 250-300-seat market.

Asked how long it would take to deliver the first A350 to Qatar Airways, which recently delayed taking delivery of its first A380 in a dispute over cabin fittings, program chief Didier Evrard said the airline's first jet was ready to start pre-delivery trials, but declined to give a precise estimate.

“It is a very cooperative phase with our customer and we are going to address it together,” Evrard said.

“It will be before the end of the year for sure,” he said, referring to the planemaker's target for first delivery. “It is a question of execution. There is no outstanding 'unknown',” he added.

Both Airbus and Boeing say their latest generation of long-distance mid-sized aircraft will cut fuel costs by at least 20 percent compared with traditional metallic aircraft.

The A350 is the result of eight years of design and development work costing an estimated $15 billion and involving 213 suppliers.

It went through several design changes as Airbus sought to counter its rival's lead in deliveries of wide-body aircraft, but Airbus says it is confident it has the right plane.

Airbus has sold 750 of the A350 jets, worth $295 million to $340 million each at list prices, since their launch in 2006.

That compares with 1,048 orders for the Dreamliner, which has been on the market longer, having been launched in 2004 and entered service in 2011.

Although the A350 is ready for service, it will not be able to fly on the longest oceanic routes for which it was designed until Airbus also receives clearance for extended operations, which its executives expect to happen within days or weeks.

A European safety official said the aircraft would be authorized to fly on virtually any world route.

Airbus is also waiting for certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, but question marks remain over how quickly and extensively the U.S. regulator will grant extended operations after problems with the entry to service of the 787.

The ability to fly long routes over water is determined by the amount of time an aircraft is allowed to operate on one engine in the event that the other engine fails.

Industry sources said Airbus had asked European authorities to clear the A350 to fly for up to 370 minutes on one engine, exceeding the so-called ETOPS limit of 330 minutes on the 787.

The global 787 fleet was grounded from January to April last year after two lithium-ion batteries burned out in separate incidents in Japan and the United States.

Airbus had intended to use lithium-ion batteries, which weigh less than traditional power packs, for the A350 but switched back to traditional nickel-cadmium in the face of the 787 problems to prevent its own schedule slipping.

Evrard said Airbus had agreed with EASA how to return to the lithium-ion technology and that this would happen in 2016.

“We have flown the lithium battery for all development aircraft except the last one and we have accumulated experience in flight,” he told reporters, adding he was “absolutely” certain they would be safe.

Japan's transport authority said last week said it was unable to find the root cause of the overheating of a battery on a 787 owned by ANA Holdings in January 2103.

Boeing says its reinforced battery system ensures the safety of the 787 Dreamliner.