Europe's newest passenger jet, the Airbus A350, successfully began its maiden flight this morning.
The flight from Airbus subsidiary EADS’s Toulouse plant, with two British and French former fighter pilots at the controls, took off at 8am and was expected to last four hours. It caps eight years of development estimated to be worth $15bn.
Coming three days ahead of the Paris Airshow, the long-awaited sortie watched by over 10,000 employees and spectators, is a milestone for Airbus as it battles against Boeing's 787 Dreamliner for sales of a new generation of lightweight carbon-composite jets designed to save fuel and open new long-distance routes.
Airbus hopes its first aircraft, which is built mainly from lightweight carbon composites, will reduce US rival Boeing's lead in the market for long-haul, wide-bodied jets.
Both the A350 XWB and the 787 Dreamliner mark the shift to a new generation of fuel-efficient, carbon-plastic jetliners designed to slash airline fuel bills, which make up about a third of the industry's costs.
The world's dominant planemakers are competing for a segment of the market that Boeing estimated on Tuesday to be worth at least $1tr over the coming two decades.
French transport sources said on Monday preparations had been marred by an air traffic controllers' strike that forced Airbus to delay the historic flight to Friday.