Airbus's prototype A350-900 has completed its maiden flight, having touched down after a sortie over southern France lasting just over 4h.

It lifted off from Toulouse Blagnac's runway 32L at 10:01 on 14 June after a 24s ground run. The crew concentrated the flight pattern initially on a region to the southeast and east of Toulouse, around Carcassonne and Pamiers.

Some 30min after lift-off the aircraft, travelling at about 190kt, retracted its landing-gear for the first time.

"It's a great day for Airbus and the A350," said Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier. "I set this target to fly before the Paris air show nine months ago. It was not easy to achieve. They did it."

Toulouse airport had only one of its runways operating on the day, which meant it was closed to other traffic for 30min while the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-powered A350 departed.

After validating all the flap configurations, chief test pilot Peter Chandler signalled that the aircraft was "behaving extremely well", cruising at 13,000ft, and that the crew was preparing to climb to 25,000ft to explore a higher speed regime.

The aircraft reached 25,000ft about 3h after take-off and then headed west towards Pau.

Although the A350-900 is designed to operate up to 43,000ft its crew opted against opening the full altitude and speed envelope.

A350 lands maiden flight

It performed a fly-by at Toulouse in landing configuration before touching down on runway 32L at 14:06.

A350 programme chief Didier Evrard says the last few months have been "extremely intense", and adds: "It's not just this aircraft, that's flying, we have already two [other] aircraft in the final assembly line, there is much more in the factories.

"So the industrial journey is now going to accelerate while we complete the technical development of the aircraft."

Bregier cautions that "what counts is not the first flight" but the certification programme as a whole, which will take about a year.

"When I said 'let's fly before the Paris air show', it was not a given," he says. "People could make it. And I want the same can-do spirit till the very end, meaning the first delivery of the aircraft in the second half of 2014. This is achievable."

Airbus test pilot Frank Chapman says the crew will have tested the A350 initially in direct law to "feel the aircraft in its brute form".

"It's actually been very nice in the simulator," he says. "We haven't really uncovered anything that gives us cause for concern.

"Our goal is to have something that handles very similar to the [A330] because it's very important for us, at the end of the certification campaign, to get a common type rating for pilots to fly the A330 and A350 in parallel.

"What the pilots will be doing over the course of the next few weeks is taking a close look at those handling qualities and - because it's a fly-by-wire system - we have the capability of tuning the handling so it's effectively much closer to the A330 than perhaps we could have done many years ago."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news