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Airbus starts opening A330neo flight envelope

Airbus's maiden sortie with the A330neo initiates a flight-test campaign which will primarily involve two instrumented airframes and a third aircraft for cabin and route testing.

The first aircraft (MSN1795) took off from Toulouse ahead of schedule on 19 October after an approaching weather front – which had caused concerns over a possible postponement – shifted away from the area.

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"We looked for 2,000ft of ceiling," says head of flight and integration tests Patrick du Che, adding that the appearance of the meteorological window and clearance for the maiden flight means the aircraft is "very well born".

Airbus is aiming for a 4h maiden flight, including a planned missed approach at 300ft on the first return to Toulouse, before landing around 14:00.

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The aircraft departed under direct flight law and climbed to 10,000ft for the first tests to assess handling and enable the crew to begin expanding the flight envelope.

It subsequently climbed to 20,000ft for further system checks, says du Che.

He says the aircraft is time-constrained on the first flight and that it might not have the time or suitable cruise-level weather conditions to climb to 30,000ft for additional broadening of the envelope.

But du Che says the airframer hopes to achieve an initial handling assessment and establish certain maximum operating points. He expects the aircraft to be flown at cruise speeds of around M0.82.

The aircraft will descend to around 10,000-15,000ft for approach configuration tests, before the crew looks at handling at higher angles-of-attack ahead of the missed approach.

Primary flight-testing of the A330neo will account for some 1,100h with MSN1795 scheduled to perform 600h.

A330neo programme head Odile Jubecourt says the second aircraft will fly next month. This aircraft, MSN1813, will conduct around 500h of tests.

Airbus will conduct cabin testing with the first customer aircraft, MSN1819 for TAP Portugal, which will be configured with the new 'Airspace' interior.

Jubecourt would not narrow the date for first delivery beyond stating that it would take place "in the middle" of 2018. The A330neo had originally been scheduled to enter service this year.

Nor has Airbus committed to a total production figure for the A330neo in 2018. The airframer is currently producing A330s at a monthly rate of six aircraft.

Jubecourt says the smaller variant of the A330neo, the A330-800, will fly next year. The initial test aircraft, MSN1888, will undertake around 300h of flights.

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