Airbus recently delivered the 350th A350 plane, its answer to Boeing's revolutionary 787 Dreamliner. Here's how the new aircraft is reshaping air travel.

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Airbus recently delivered the 350th A350 plane, its answer to Boeing's revolutionary 787 Dreamliner. Here's how the new aircraft is reshaping air travel.

airbus a350

REUTERS/Tim Chong

An Airbus A350-900 XWB aircraft.

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  • Airbus recently delivered to 350th Airbus A350 aircraft to one of its top customers, Air France.
  • The Airbus A350 program was first approved by Airbus in 2006 in response to the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner programs that were becoming popular with airlines and highlighted Airbus' inadequacies in the twin-engine market.
  • Fourteen years later, the Airbus A350 is a symbol of efficiency in aviation and reshaping long-haul air travel.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Airbus delivered its 350th A350 aircraft to Air France earlier in February, marking a milestone for one of the manufacturer's newest twin-engine wide-body offerings. The delivery came six years after the first Airbus A350 was delivered to a customer in 2014, and seven years after its first flight in 2013.

Since its arrival in the skies, the A350's reach has spread far and wide, with no shortage of orders for the next-generation aircraft. The A350 has renewed fleets, been the platform for new products, and opened routes previously thought to be unviable, all in its short time in the sky.

Much like Boeing with the 777 and 787 Dreamliner, the A350 marked a turning point for Airbus that saw it shift to producing next-generation twin-engines instead of going big with aircraft like the A380, a commercial flop for Airbus which will end the program after less than 300 deliveries.

With the A350 quickly surpassing the A380 in terms of orders, it's been a successful aircraft for Airbus and is ushering in the future for the manufacturer and air travel.

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Take a look back at the history of the Airbus A350.

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In 2005, Airbus' landmark achievement of engineering and design, the Airbus A380, took its first flight.

In 2005, Airbus' landmark achievement of engineering and design, the Airbus A380, took its first flight.

Source: Airbus

Airbus' quad engine double-decker had finally bested Boeing and its 1.5 deck 747 aircraft that had dominated the skies since the 1960s. It was called the 21st-century flagship by Airbus and sought to change aviation the same way the 747 did.

Airbus' quad engine double-decker had finally bested Boeing and its 1.5 deck 747 aircraft that had dominated the skies since the 1960s. It was called the 21st-century flagship by Airbus and sought to change aviation the same way the 747 did.

Source: Airbus

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Airbus, however, was looking in the wrong direction as rival Boeing was focused on the next generation of air travel that didn't involve four-engine aircraft.

Airbus, however, was looking in the wrong direction as rival Boeing was focused on the next generation of air travel that didn't involve four-engine aircraft.

Two years prior to the A380s first flight, Boeing had announced it was developing a new plane with only two engines, piggybacking off the success of the 777 that had entered service with United Airlines in 1995 and was revolutionizing twin-engine travel.

Two years prior to the A380s first flight, Boeing had announced it was developing a new plane with only two engines, piggybacking off the success of the 777 that had entered service with United Airlines in 1995 and was revolutionizing twin-engine travel.

Source: Boeing

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That aircraft was the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a commercial success for Boeing that would later be found in the fleets of airlines the world over by the mid-2010s.

That aircraft was the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a commercial success for Boeing that would later be found in the fleets of airlines the world over by the mid-2010s.

With airlines warning Airbus that its current plans for a next-generation aircraft, which was basically a carbon fiber A330 with new engines, wouldn't be enough to convert 787 customers to A350 customers, Airbus went back to the drawing board.

With airlines warning Airbus that its current plans for a next-generation aircraft, which was basically a carbon fiber A330 with new engines, wouldn't be enough to convert 787 customers to A350 customers, Airbus went back to the drawing board.

Source: Reuters

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The Airbus board was largely divided on the aircraft and the decision to produce the aircraft wasn't even settled when the aircraft was first announced in 2006 at the Farnborough Airshow.

The Airbus board was largely divided on the aircraft and the decision to produce the aircraft wasn't even settled when the aircraft was first announced in 2006 at the Farnborough Airshow.

Source: Reuters

Later that year, however, Airbus decided on a design for a new, clean slate carbon aircraft with two engines and the A350 in its final form was born, a $13 billion endeavor.

Later that year, however, Airbus decided on a design for a new, clean slate carbon aircraft with two engines and the A350 in its final form was born, a $13 billion endeavor.

Source: New York Times and Reuters

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So while the Airbus A380 was making history with its first flight, it was nearly obsolete before its wheels ever left the ground as Airbus was already shifting towards twin-engine aircraft.

So while the Airbus A380 was making history with its first flight, it was nearly obsolete before its wheels ever left the ground as Airbus was already shifting towards twin-engine aircraft.

The new aircraft would a direct competitor to the 787 Dreamliner and 777, with three variants planned to include the smaller -800, midsize -900, and larger -1000, and seat capacity ranging from 250 to 375

The new aircraft would a direct competitor to the 787 Dreamliner and 777, with three variants planned to include the smaller -800, midsize -900, and larger -1000, and seat capacity ranging from 250 to 375

Source: New York Times and CNN

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The decision to start fresh instead of giving the A330 a makeover was influenced primarily by airlines and other customers, including Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker and aircraft leasing magnate Steven F. Udvar-Hazy.

The decision to start fresh instead of giving the A330 a makeover was influenced primarily by airlines and other customers, including Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker and aircraft leasing magnate Steven F. Udvar-Hazy.

Source: Reuters

A key feature of the aircraft would also be included in its full name, A350 Extra Wide Body or XWB, with the cabin width being slightly larger than the 787's at 5.61 meters.

A key feature of the aircraft would also be included in its full name, A350 Extra Wide Body or XWB, with the cabin width being slightly larger than the 787's at 5.61 meters.

Source: Airbus

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The extra meters allow for as many as 10 seats per row to be installed on the aircraft, though many airlines opt for nine.

The extra meters allow for as many as 10 seats per row to be installed on the aircraft, though many airlines opt for nine.

Development of the aircraft began the next year in 2007 with an estimated first flight in 2013. In the meantime, orders were piling up from major airlines including Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Development of the aircraft began the next year in 2007 with an estimated first flight in 2013. In the meantime, orders were piling up from major airlines including Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Source: Singapore Airlines

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Though General Electric was initially sought after to provide engines to power the aircraft, Rolls Royce eventually became the top A350 engine supplier with its more efficient Trent XWB exclusively found on the aircraft.

Though General Electric was initially sought after to provide engines to power the aircraft, Rolls Royce eventually became the top A350 engine supplier with its more efficient Trent XWB exclusively found on the aircraft.

Source: Seattle Times and FlightGlobal

The new Rolls Royce engines helped Airbus achieve a greater level of efficiency with the A350. According to the manufacturer, the aircraft is 25% more efficient than its current generation wide-body aircraft and its largest variant can fly up to 8,700 nautical miles.

The new Rolls Royce engines helped Airbus achieve a greater level of efficiency with the A350. According to the manufacturer, the aircraft is 25% more efficient than its current generation wide-body aircraft and its largest variant can fly up to 8,700 nautical miles.

Source: Airbus

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Production for the aircraft took place across Europe with production sites in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among others.

Production for the aircraft took place across Europe with production sites in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among others.

Source: Airbus

Ultimately, the smallest -800 variant would be dropped and the sub-250-seat market would be given to the upcoming Airbus A330neo project.

Ultimately, the smallest -800 variant would be dropped and the sub-250-seat market would be given to the upcoming Airbus A330neo project.
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The cockpit of the aircraft would be one of the most technologically advanced to be featured on an Airbus jet with pilots being fed information from high-definition screens and having access to multiple exterior cameras.

The cockpit of the aircraft would be one of the most technologically advanced to be featured on an Airbus jet with pilots being fed information from high-definition screens and having access to multiple exterior cameras.

Following a six-year production, the A350 was transferred from the final assembly line in Toulouse to the flight test department in May 2013 to perform 2,500 hours of testing before it could be certified.

Following a six-year production, the A350 was transferred from the final assembly line in Toulouse to the flight test department in May 2013 to perform 2,500 hours of testing before it could be certified.

Source: Bloomberg

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The final design of the A350 would look nothing like the A330 and boast a carbon fiber fuselage with blended winglets called sharklets giving it a more sporty look.

The final design of the A350 would look nothing like the A330 and boast a carbon fiber fuselage with blended winglets called sharklets giving it a more sporty look.

Then in June, the first Airbus A350 took to the skies for the first time with scores of computers and engineers onboard to test its capabilities.

Then in June, the first Airbus A350 took to the skies for the first time with scores of computers and engineers onboard to test its capabilities.

Source: Airbus

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Following successful test flights and certifications from EASA and the FAA, Qatar Airways took the first delivery of an Airbus A350-900 XWB in December 2014, marking a new era for Airbus that would see it double down on next-generation aircraft.

Following successful test flights and certifications from EASA and the FAA, Qatar Airways took the first delivery of an Airbus A350-900 XWB in December 2014, marking a new era for Airbus that would see it double down on next-generation aircraft.

Source: CNN

Following Qatar Airways taking the first four A350s to be delivered by Airbus, other carriers started to receive their orders including Vietnam Airlines,…

Following Qatar Airways taking the first four A350s to be delivered by Airbus, other carriers started to receive their orders including Vietnam Airlines,…
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Finnair…

Finnair…

Singapore Airlines…

Singapore Airlines…
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LATAM Airlines Brasil...

LATAM Airlines Brasil...

Ethiopian Airlines…

Ethiopian Airlines…
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Cathay Pacific…

Cathay Pacific…

Thai Airways International…

Thai Airways International…
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China Airlines…

China Airlines…

Lufthansa...

Lufthansa...
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Air Caraibes...

Air Caraibes...

and Asiana Airlines.

and Asiana Airlines.
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The aircraft was growing in popularity in most continents, though with one notable standout: North America. That was until Delta Air Lines received its first A350 in 2017, the first US-based A350 operator.

The aircraft was growing in popularity in most continents, though with one notable standout: North America. That was until Delta Air Lines received its first A350 in 2017, the first US-based A350 operator.

Source: Delta Air Lines

While the -900 was becoming more pervasive, some airlines decided to hold out for the larger A350 variant that was to make its commercial debut in 2018, the Airbus A350-1000 XWB.

While the -900 was becoming more pervasive, some airlines decided to hold out for the larger A350 variant that was to make its commercial debut in 2018, the Airbus A350-1000 XWB.
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The A350-1000 XWB is an extended version of the -900, offering a longer fuselage by over 20 feet and capable of holding over 400 passengers in a high-density configuration.

The A350-1000 XWB is an extended version of the -900, offering a longer fuselage by over 20 feet and capable of holding over 400 passengers in a high-density configuration.

Source: Airbus

The latest A350 would come soon after the -900 debuted, performing its first flight in November 2016.

The latest A350 would come soon after the -900 debuted, performing its first flight in November 2016.

Source: Airbus

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Qatar Airways, again, became the first operator of the aircraft type when it took delivery in February 2018.

Qatar Airways, again, became the first operator of the aircraft type when it took delivery in February 2018.

Once the -1000 debuted, more airlines started adopting the A350, most notably the two largest UK carriers British Airways…

Once the -1000 debuted, more airlines started adopting the A350, most notably the two largest UK carriers British Airways…
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And Virgin Atlantic Airways.

And Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Both carriers were already operators of the Boeing 787 with the A350 complementing their next-generation fleets, as was the case with many A350 customers.

Both carriers were already operators of the Boeing 787 with the A350 complementing their next-generation fleets, as was the case with many A350 customers.
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The A350 also managed to penetrate Boeing strongholds including Japan where American aircraft reign supreme over European types.

The A350 also managed to penetrate Boeing strongholds including Japan where American aircraft reign supreme over European types.

Japan Airlines, which had long favored Boeing products alongside rival All Nippon Airways, became the first Japanese operator of a next-generation Airbus twin-engine wide-body when it received its first A350-900 XWB in 2019.

Japan Airlines, which had long favored Boeing products alongside rival All Nippon Airways, became the first Japanese operator of a next-generation Airbus twin-engine wide-body when it received its first A350-900 XWB in 2019.
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The aircraft soon started to displace the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the list of longest flights in the world, with the longest routes for the A350 including Singapore and San Francisco operated by Singapore Airlines, an approximately 7,350-nautical mile route...

The aircraft soon started to displace the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the list of longest flights in the world, with the longest routes for the A350 including Singapore and San Francisco operated by Singapore Airlines, an approximately 7,350-nautical mile route...

Source: Forbes

Manila and New York operated by Philippine Airlines, around 7,400 nautical miles…

Manila and New York operated by Philippine Airlines, around 7,400 nautical miles…

Source: Forbes

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Singapore and Los Angeles operated by Singapore Airlines, a near-7,650-nautical mile route…

Singapore and Los Angeles operated by Singapore Airlines, a near-7,650-nautical mile route…

Source: Forbes

And Singapore and Newark, again operated by Singapore Airlines, currently the longest nonstop route in the world with an approximate length of 8,300 nautical miles. For this route, the airline uses a specially configured Airbus A350, the A350-900 Ultra Long Range or ULR.

And Singapore and Newark, again operated by Singapore Airlines, currently the longest nonstop route in the world with an approximate length of 8,300 nautical miles. For this route, the airline uses a specially configured Airbus A350, the A350-900 Ultra Long Range or ULR.

Source: Forbes

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The A350 is shaping to be the new face of ultra-long-haul travel, as Qantas recently selected the aircraft to operate its planned nonstop flights from Sydney to London and New York over Boeing's offering. The flights, currently in testing under the name Project Sunrise, would be the longest in the world with nearly an entire day in the air.

The A350 is shaping to be the new face of ultra-long-haul travel, as Qantas recently selected the aircraft to operate its planned nonstop flights from Sydney to London and New York over Boeing's offering. The flights, currently in testing under the name Project Sunrise, would be the longest in the world with nearly an entire day in the air.

The aircraft continues to dominate in Europe and Asia but has not been as well received in the Western Hemisphere or south of the Equator, with only a handful of carriers in North America, South America, and Africa purchasing the aircraft.

The aircraft continues to dominate in Europe and Asia but has not been as well received in the Western Hemisphere or south of the Equator, with only a handful of carriers in North America, South America, and Africa purchasing the aircraft.
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South African Airways became the first sub-equatorial airline in continental Africa to operate the aircraft, though it's unclear whether or not the airline will be around to continue operating them as it continues to face financial issues.

South African Airways became the first sub-equatorial airline in continental Africa to operate the aircraft, though it's unclear whether or not the airline will be around to continue operating them as it continues to face financial issues.

Source: Business Insider

United Airlines will become the second US operator of the A350 when it begins taking delivery of its order for 45 of the type in 2027. The airline already flies all three variants of the 787 Dreamliner.

United Airlines will become the second US operator of the A350 when it begins taking delivery of its order for 45 of the type in 2027. The airline already flies all three variants of the 787 Dreamliner.

Source: The Points Guy

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Airbus just delivered its 350th Airbus A350 to Air France last week, with deliveries and orders continuing to rise.

Airbus just delivered its 350th Airbus A350 to Air France last week, with deliveries and orders continuing to rise.

Source: Air France

The aircraft is also being used by Airbus to help usher in the future of air travel, with an A350-1000 XWB performing an autonomous takeoff with no pilot input in December.

The aircraft is also being used by Airbus to help usher in the future of air travel, with an A350-1000 XWB performing an autonomous takeoff with no pilot input in December.

Source: Business Insider

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What began as a hasty effort to compete with Boeing ended up giving Airbus the aircraft to lead it and the aviation industry into the future.

What began as a hasty effort to compete with Boeing ended up giving Airbus the aircraft to lead it and the aviation industry into the future.