Long, Trim and Deluxe: The A350-1000XWB Debuts in Australia
At about the time Photorecon heard the newest in Airbus’s illustrious stable was visiting Australia, we needed little prodding to fly interstate for a mixed media demonstration and spotting trip. As the A350-1000XWB is yet to visit the American continent, I’d like to share the experience.
Business first! Thanks to a generous offer to join the media contingent in Sydney for a demonstration flight, the day went something like this: Join our flight – Jetstar airways JQ504 departing Melbourne on an A320-232 (VH-VGN) – it is just over an hour’s flight – and on the ground at Sydney at 09:20 with just enough time to grab a cab to QANTAS House, Mascot, for the pre-flight briefing. Tight timeframes ensured a fast pace. The theme was the new generation Airbus family, and how the -1000 fits in (given Airbus has for months, been in discussion with Qantas on the potential for this model to meet their range requirements, performance and pax comfort). A350 marketing chief Ms Marisa Lucas-Ugena assessed a 20-year demand for around 2,800 new twin jets for airlines worldwide, with the Asia-Pacific accounting for about 40% of these. Compared to the A350-900 with 325 seats and 8,100nm range, the 366 seats and 7,950nm range of the -1K reflects favourably (on paper) against Boeing’s 787-1000 Dreamliner. A350 features 53% composites in its structure. Airbus claims 25% better fuel burn and lower CO2 emissions and lower operating costs. Robust, simple systems with excellent redundancy ensure maximum reliability and improved maintenance costs which are said to make this version very attractive to airlines. According to Airbus, A350-1K “has the capability of 787-8 and can be accommodated in the Qantas fleet, with more passengers”.
However, questions were asked of Airbus whether this aircraft, without reduction of payload, could meet Qantas’s needs. Airbus takes the view that airlines want the “full experience” of great customer comfort, fuel efficiency and low emissions. (Perhaps there will be Virgin Australia – International interest?). If so, can we assume there will NOT be a special version just for QF?
Fitted with Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines of 97,000lb thrust, Airbus’s “airspace” cabin (not including the seating – this was the A350-1000 cabin test airframe) included high ceilings, bigger windows and vertical side walls, as the focus was to improve passenger wellbeing and comfort. Cabin pressures are optimised to an equivalent 8,000ft altitude (compared with 6,000ft in most comparable types). There are now 169 firm -1K orders to 11 customers. Stop press – the first delivery was made this week, just eight days after our flight, to launch customer, Qatar Airlines.
Our impressions: After the briefing we were bussed to the apron and the parked aircraft, F-WLXV (MSN 065) for a press conference including Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO. It is without doubt, a large aircraft for a twin jet. Boarding from the tarmac, we were impressed with the dimensions of the Trent engines – it was later disclosed that R-R had proven (in this type’s development) a claimed 99.3% reliability, and indeed, though having no major issues to contend with, they had removed two of the Trents from the early production A350s for examination “just to see what is happening on the inside”!
It is very roomy indeed – although having not yet experienced the 787-9, one still felt the usual claustrophobic effect on entering a passenger cabin was not apparent in the A350. This being the manufacturer’s cabin test airframe, the rear cabin area came fully instrumented – a station with several screens including duplicated cockpit instrumentation and two crew constantly monitoring conditions of noise, vibration etc. Sitting in the mid-cabin, over the wings to test the “ride” from the best point, the seats were wide and comfortable with plenty of legroom but not of the latest maturation and in varying pitches to show to potential customers (Airbus are finalising the seating which will be fitted into future deliveries). We were facing Thales’s new “revolutionary” in-flight entertainment and connectivity system, fitted with the latest touch screens. Scrolling through the various displays, it was easy to swipe and select and my best find was the new on-board camera positions (directly vertical and forward views underneath the aircraft’s nose) – just fascinating to watch the nose gear lower for the approach and landing!
The Flight: As this was a special flight (with flight number AIB107) there was only the broadcast safety message – no demonstration. As soon as we configured for cruise, we were allowed out of our seats to experience the aircraft. This was the opportunity to discuss aspects of the interior with Airbus’s cabin development team. They even allowed the more adventurous of us to experience the tight crew rest area. However, we are sworn to secrecy regarding the “secret squirrel” location of the hatch leading to the six-bed rest area, which is reached by climbing a hidden, narrow ladder to the rear of the cabin area. We rolled for takeoff just after midday for a 45-minute flight, and yes, it was a very quiet takeoff. As a result, after the unexpectedly long roll, the undercarriage and flap retraction sequences were immediate and loud, more so than I can recall on other types. “White noise” was also noticeable after our lift-off from runway 34, and the tight turn on exit from the pattern. Perhaps the 15kt cross wind had something to do with the manoeuvre! But the power of this aircraft, even with sufficient fuel for a cross-Tasman Sea flight to New Zealand later that afternoon, allowed the pilot, Captain Hugues Van Der Stichel, to seamlessly manoeuvre past downtown Sydney as we flew low over the Harbour with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House off our “three”.
While we appreciate this airframe was not to full specs, this was a valuable experience nonetheless. After parking, Captain Van Der Stichel met with journalists and thanked us – for giving him a reason to low-fly the Harbour, in his opinion an iconic sight of world-wide recognition!
Let the spotting begin! Thanks to Sydney Airport Corporation Limited (SACL) and Ms Georgia Clark, Photorecon was permitted significant airside access later that afternoon for the A350’s departure to Auckland. The second part of this story features imagery shot from the runway verge. SACL had recently run a competition on social media (engaging youth and a few local spotters in the excitement of the Airbus visit) and rewarding the winners with an airside photographic opportunity. Positioned at 34L for the A350 departure, which occurred earlier than advised (and further back on the runway), we were nonetheless allowed to stay till the international “heavies” had departed. Finishing with the B.747 and A380, a now-increased, 19kt crosswind made for some of the most amazing takeoffs I have been privileged to experience. We flew back on Jetstar JQ523, VH-JQL into Melbourne. Indeed, it was a day to remember!
Thanks to Ms Marisa Lucas-Ugena, Mr Justin Dubon, Mr Ted Porter and Mr Nathan Pick from Airbus for including Photorecon for the demonstration; Captain Van Der Stichel and the cabin marketing ladies for their great knowledge and Qantas for professionally crewing and providing beautiful food for our flight.