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First flight nears, A350 could make Paris show flypast

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(Reuters) – Airbus could steal the Paris air show with a flypast of its newest passenger jet, the A350, as confidence grows over a maiden flight some four weeks away.

The timescales of its previous airliner launches suggest the European manufacturer could be ready to fly the aircraft in mid-June, depending on weather and ground trials, giving pilots a narrow time window to test the plane’s basic characteristics in flight before the June 17-23 air show.

With just a few hours in the air, industry sources say it is unlikely that the first completed A350, rolled out of the Airbus paint shop only last week, will actually land at the show.

But if the first handful of flights go to plan, a 600-km (400-mile) trip to Le Bourget for a brief roar over its American rivals would ratchet up the PR war just as Boeing aims to recover from a three-month grounding of its 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus reiterated it plans to fly the A350 around the middle of the year and declined further comment on the plane’s debut.

However, the prospect of Airbus flaunting its newest jet from the air increased as photographs of an A350 logo painted on the plane’s belly circulated on the Internet. Such belly markings are typically used for branding in air show flypasts.

Media were kept away from a staff-only unveiling last week, but a corner of what looked like an A350 logo was just visible on official video that otherwise showed little of the underside, tweeted David Kaminski-Morrow of aviation website Flightglobal.

A flying debut is the signature moment in the development of any new plane, when the industry goes into publicity overdrive.

The first tests may also give Airbus the first indications of whether a $15-billion gamble on an aircraft to rival Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has paid off. The A350 is designed to offer airlines big savings on fuel thanks to a lightweight structure that follows on the heels of Boeing’s carbon-composite 787.

“If everything goes well, you can do a quick check of cruise performance even on the first flight,” said Claude Lelaie, who was head of flight testing at Airbus before he retired.

“Everyone is usually anxious to have a very preliminary idea of performance, and especially fuel consumption,” he said. He declined to comment specifically on the A350.

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