Preparations for the first flight of the Airbus A350 have hit a snag as the fallout widens from a three-day air traffic control strike due to start on Tuesday, French transport sources said.As airlines began cancelling flights to Toulouse in southwest France, protests by controllers over plans to reorganise European airspace established Friday June 14 as a possible date for the historic first flight, they said.However, plans are in flux and the date is also subject to the weather and the outcome of a final set of ground trials.The debut of the first new Airbus airliner in almost a decade is set to dominate the build-up to the June 17-23 Paris Airshow and step up competition with Boeing.Airbus is seen as anxious to fly the plane in advance of the showcase event, leaving open the possibility of a promotional fly-by at next week's air show once the A350 has been put through its initial paces and its basic integrity confirmed.But a final decision is solely in the hands of the company's test pilots who must complete a series of braking tests, over and above any disruption from the planned strike.Airbus declined to comment on the schedule."Pre-first flight tests are continuing and no final date for the first flight has been set," an Airbus spokesman said.French controllers have called for a three-day strike from Tuesday June 11 to Thursday June 13 as part of a wider European action that, outside France, mainly involves a go-slow.European airspace organisation Eurocontrol said the strike would put French airspace on "minimum service" and warned that flights to the country's airports could be cut by 50 percent."The French authorities expect this action to be strongly followed over the entire period, particularly on Wednesday," Eurocontrol said in a bulletin to airlines.Although Airbus can fly its jets without public controllers, flying on a strike day could derail plans to bring in a large contingent of VIPs and media to its Toulouse headquarters.The main Airbus factory shares runways with the Toulouse-Blagnac commercial airport, France's sixth busiest.Maiden flights typically involve lavish publicity and the A350 flight is one of the industry's most keenly awaited events.Britain's easyJet said it was cancelling 10-11 daily arrivals to Toulouse on both Tuesday and Wednesday and would publish its schedule for Thursday on Wednesday.Air France announced it was cancelling an unspecified number of short- and medium-haul flights.Built mainly from carbon-composites, the A350 is Europe's response to the lightweight Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will be displayed at the air show at Le Bourget, near Paris.The two aircraft are going head to head in a battle for orders as many airlines switch to a new generation of jets designed to reduce fuel bills and open up new routes.The air show takes place in crowded airspace just six miles (10 km) from Europe's second-busiest airport at Paris Charles de Gaulle, meaning a full strike could also hamper efforts to position some aircraft and start rehearsing flying displays. Source: Reuters
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