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350 = 221

Airbus is proud of the wide cabin of its A350 XWB. Ian Harbison has been catching up with developments with a preview of the new interior in Hamburg and on a test flight from Toulouse

For Airbus, the magic number on the aircraft is 221 – the number of inches in the cabin cross section. Of course, this was the reason for the project relaunch in 2006 as the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body), following its less than enthusiastic reception from airlines when it was first announced in 2004. At that point, it had a fuselage retaining the cross section of the A330/340, which did not offer any tangible market advantage.


With Airbus now challenging Boeing on seat width, it is playing the cross section as a trump card, saying the extra 5in of width over the Boeing 787 means it can offer a 3-3-3 standard economy configuration with an 18in-wide seat, against a 3-4-3 layout with 17in-wide seats. With sidewalls that are almost vertical, there is additional head and shoulder room for passengers. Larger overhead stowage capacity has also been included, allowing more than one roller-bag per passenger across all classes.


The Thales TopSeries IFEC system also helps with passenger space as there are no under-seat electronics boxes. Instead, these have been relocated under the floor, with only power cables and high-bandwidth fibre optics (initially providing 25mbps, with room for growth) leading to the seat. The HD screens can also be bigger in all classes and full Ku-band connectivity through internet and mobile-based applications has been incorporated from the start.


Cabin comfort is enhanced by a lower cabin pressure altitude and renewal of cabin air every two to three minutes, while there are eight different temperature control zones throughout the aircraft for passengers, along with four additional zones for the crew. Although the lower cabin altitude provides greater relative humidity, the Zonal Drying System and the Cair humidification system from CTT Systems are available as options. Though the cabin windows are larger than previous models they are still fitted with manual or electromechanical window blinds – Airbus feels that the reliability of electronic dimming, as on the 787, has not been established yet. 


Airbus is also claiming leadership over Boeing in widebody sales; in early April it had 1,696 orders (for the A330, A350 and A380) against 1,281 (for the 767, 787, 777, 777X and 747-8). Within this, it claims there are 812 orders for the A350, ahead of 598 for the 787. Additionally, it points out that A350 orders and commitments have been received from eight out of the top 10 777 operators.



MSN002 flew for the first time on 26 February 2014 and is dedicated to the testing of all cabin-related systems. It is the first aircraft to have a full interior installed, although there is some test instrumentation fitted for cabin hot and cold tests.


In May, the aircraft spent more than two weeks at the US Air Force’s McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Here it was subjected to multiple climatic and humidity settings from a high of 45ºC to a low of -40ºC. Various components, from IFE and air conditioning to the galleys and the water and waste systems, were validated while the A350 XWB was enclosed in the laboratory’s large hangar. Testing included operations with the engines running at idle, which, due to their high residual thrust even at this level, required the aircraft to be securely chained in place.


In early June, Airbus used the MSN002 to carry out two Early Long Flights (ELF). Although these are not part of the technical certification programme, they allow the company to assess the cabin environment and systems in flight ahead of final certification. The first, with Air France cabin crew, was a daytime flight lasting seven hours. The second, with Lufthansa cabin crew, was an overnight flight lasting 12 hours. Both flights took off from and landed in Toulouse. During the flights, 500 passengers – comprised of Airbus employees and around 30 cabin experts from Airbus and other equipment manufacturers – were tasked with trying out and testing the cabin systems, including the air conditioning, lighting, acoustics, IFE, galleys, electrics, toilets, and the water and waste systems.


Learning from its experience with the A380, where complex interiors caused delays, Airbus has introduced a cabin configuration catalogue from the start of the project as it plans to rapidly ramp up production. It should be noted that the participating companies are also risk-share partners in the programme, meaning it will be tough for new potential vendors to break into the market. While the A350 is represented in the Sales Mock-up Centre in Toulouse, the company has taken a further step with the opening of the A350 XWB Customer Definition Centre (CDC) at the Airbus site in Hamburg. This brings together all the cabin elements in one location, allowing airlines to examine the products for real and plan their cabin layouts. Two customers can be accommodated at once, with tight control over access to ensure commercial confidentiality. >>

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