Airbus’ new A350 airliner landed in South Africa for the first time on Saturday afternoon as part of a worldwide testing and trials tour ahead of certification and delivery to the first customer later this year. Nearly half a dozen African airlines have ordered the new aircraft.
On Sunday the fifth A350 prototype to be built conducted high altitude airfield and auto-landing trials at Oliver R Tambo International Airport. A number of approaches and touch and go landings were conducted, after a delay caused by a Cessna Caravan landing with a flat tyre and blocking the runway.
O R Tambo International is widely renowned as a challenging airport to navigate due to its high altitude (1 694 m above sea level) and its relatively high temperatures. The easterly runway was ideal for testing the accuracy of the A350XWB’s auto-landing capability and the calibration of auto-landing flight control and radio altimeter software as it has a 20 metre embankment on the approach.
“We are pleased to be selected as the first airport on the continent to host the latest addition to the Airbus family,” said Unathi Batyashe-Fillis, head of Corporate Affairs for Airports Company South Africa. “The decision by Airbus to run test flights of their new jetliner at our facilities is testimony to the confidence the company has shown in our infrastructure and our capability as an airport management authority. Such flights are used to test compatibility of the aircraft with existing airport and air traffic management infrastructure, systems and processes.”
The A350 was scheduled to depart for Sydney, Australia, on Monday as part of the A350 XWB World Tour, which began on July 24. The tour involves a series of tests on four different trips. The aircraft will have visited 14 airports around the world by the time the tour concludes on August 13.
Part of testing involves route proving flights, including one via the North Pole, designed to demonstrate readiness for airline operations. The aircraft that arrived in South Africa is one of five test aircraft and one of two with a fully functional cabin (42 business class and 223 economy class seats).
The tests form part of the last trials required for aircraft Type Certification scheduled for the third quarter of this year. The five development A350s have flown over 540 flights and accumulated 2 250 flight hours as part of the intensive flight test programme.
The first airline delivery, to Qatar Airways, will take place towards the end of the year. At the end of June 2014, the A350XWB had received over 740 orders from nearly 40 customers worldwide. Several African airlines have ordered the A350, including Ethiopian Airlines (12), Afriqiyah (10), Libyan Airlines (6) and Air Mauritius (6). Airbus sees a requirement for some 200 new twin-aisle aircraft in the A330/A350XWB category in the African region over the next two decades.
The A350XWB is wide-body airliner has been designed with efficiency in mind – Airbus claims its aircraft is 25% more fuel efficient than the Boeing 777 and 6% more efficient than the 787. Efficiency is accomplished through next generation Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, aerodynamics and lightweight materials – over 70% of the A350 XWB’s airframe is made from advanced materials combining composites (53%), titanium and aluminium alloys.
The A350 XWB family consists of three passenger versions capable of flying up to 8 500 nm/15 580 km. In a typical two-class configuration, the A350-800 will offer 276 seats while the A350-900 and the A350-1000 will offer 315 and 369 seats respectively.
A350 components are made in South Africa and the aircraft has the most South African content out of any Airbus civil aircraft. Wing and fuselage components are manufactured by Aerosud in Centurion while Cobham South Africa in Westlake, near Cape Town, manufactures satellite communication equipment for the A350XWB. Among these made-in-South Africa components are the composites fuselage frame clips which secure the aircraft’s panels to its skeletal frame.
Airbus collaborates with South Africa’s research and technology community and has launched and funded numerous research initiatives in cooperation with the Department of Trade & Industry’s National Aerospace Centre and the Department of Science & Technology, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), various universities and specialised laboratories. A key objective for Airbus is to broaden its industrial network to include more public and private sector partners.
Some of these partnerships involve research into advanced manufacturing techniques, such as additive layer manufacturing that involves forming components out of titanium powder using high power lasers.
On the military side, Denel Aerostructures and Aerosud make parts for the A400M Atlas military transport aircraft.