How Ideas Become Airplanes: The Long Journey of Cathay Pacific’s Newest Airbus
How exactly does an airline go from deciding upon a new aircraft type to signing the bill and taking delivery? Here’s how the world’s newest wide-body plane made its recent debut for Cathay Pacific Airways.
New planes are delivered to airlines all the time, but when a brand new type of aircraft joins a fleet, it calls for a celebration. Cathay Pacific just hosted an extravagant champagne-fueled curtain reveal for its new Airbus A350-1000 to aviation media at a dedicated delivery terminal at Airbus’s Toulouse factory in June.
Guests were given a full tour of the aircraft and some joined the ferry flight to the airline’s home base in Hong Kong. Others, including AFAR, watched it depart from a panoramic balcony while even more aviation fans tracked it online. When the plane took to the skies, it had flown fewer than 10 test hours. (The flight number was CX 3510—CX is Cathay Pacific’s airline code and 3510 is a play on the plane’s 350-1000 number.)
The delivery flight was a lot like any other, with liquid restrictions, safety demonstrations, and onboard rules, but the atmosphere was one of jubilation. The plane’s journey, however, began a full eight years earlier when Cathay Pacific originally signed the purchase agreement before design, production, and testing began.
Conceiving a brand new model Once an airline order is placed with Airbus, the aircraft joins the assembly line in Toulouse, France. It’s a long and meticulous process—the A350-1000’s cabin layout alone took five years. The plane boasts some new features that will help with passenger comfort, sustainability, and of course the airline’s bottom line.
It’s crafted from composite materials, including carbon fiber reinforced plastic for the exterior, and Cathay Pacific plans to use sustainable sugarcane biofuel on many of its flights as part of its plan to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2020.
The aircraft uses 20 percent less fuel than the airline’s Boeing 777 planes and has a lower cabin pressure, giving passengers more oxygen to reduce jet lag and resulting in 50 percent less noise.
It also features an expanded fuselage between the first and second doors, which the airline uses for a larger business class cabin. Pilots note that the flight deck of the new plane is identical to its smaller -900 sibling, although they can feel the plane’s extended length on the ground and heavier weight in the air.
Putting the plane through its paces Airbus built a test aircraft and pushed it to its limits to determine the capabilities of the model that would eventually carry customers. In 2016, it first took to the skies for trials that included performance in extreme hot or cold temperatures and handling in thunderstorms. Test pilots intentionally flew the plane into storms to experience lightning or strong turbulence, with Airbus technicians on the ground monitoring the plane’s performance.
The new A350-1000 will help replace some of the airline’s older Boeing 777 aircraft and open up longer-distance routes that the airline could not previously offer profitably—such as the forthcoming September flight between Hong Kong and Washington, D.C., Cathay Pacific’s longest flight.
The plane operated its first 334-seat A350-1000 flight with paying passengers between Hong Kong and Taipei. Following Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific will be the world’s second airline to fly this particular eco-friendly aircraft.
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