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A350-900ULR takes flight as Airbus looks towards Project Sunrise

written by australianaviation.com.au | April 24, 2018

Singapore Airlines' first Airbus A350-900ULR takes off on its maiden test flight. (Airbus)
Singapore Airlines’ first Airbus A350-900ULR takes off on its maiden test flight. (Airbus)

The Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range), a contender for Qantas’s demanding Project Sunrise mission, has taken to the skies for the first time to kick off a short flight test program ahead of certification and entry into service with Singapore Airlines in the second half of 2018.
While the aircraft, MSN216, is yet to be painted, it does feature the words “Singapore Airlines First To Fly” on the fuselage alongside a “A350XWB Ultra Long Range” logo.
Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, the A350-900ULR took off from Airbus’s headquarters at Toulouse, France a little after 1030 local time on Monday.
It headed south-east, flying mostly over the Mediterranean Sea before returning to Toulouse, where the flightcrew conducted a go-around before landing at about 1530.
Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Guillaume Faury said on Twitter that the A350-900ULR was “pushing the boundaries like no other aircraft has before”.

The A350-900ULR will allow Singapore Airlines, which has ordered seven of the type, to resume the world’s longest passenger service in nonstop Singapore-New York flights in the second half of 2018. The 8,285nm route was suspended in 2013 when when high fuel prices made it uneconomical with Airbus A340-500s.

SIA is counting down the days to a resumption of Singapore-New York nonstop flights. (SIA/Twitter)
A 2015 promotional image from SIA counting down the days to a resumption of Singapore-New York nonstop flights. (SIA/Twitter)

The aircraft is also a contender for Qantas’s demanding Project Sunrise requirement for an aircraft capable of operating nonstop flights from Sydney to London and New York by 2022.
Airbus head of A350 marketing Marisa Lucas-Ugena said the flight test program for the A350-900ULR was focused on the aircraft’s modified fuel system, which increases the fuel carrying capacity by 24,000 litres (from 141,000 litres to 165,000 litres) over the standard A350-900 without the need for additional fuel tanks.
While there are no changes to the size of the centre fuel tank, modifications to the layout of the piping and valves within has allowed for the increase in fuel carrying capacity.
There is also a performance improvement package with larger winglets, a slight twist to the wing compared with the standard A350-900, as well as changes to the flap fairing and belly fairing.
The A350-900ULR’s higher maximum takeoff weight of 280 tonnes also has to be certified.
The flight test program is expected to take a few weeks.
Airbus has not published seating data for the the A350-900ULR, stating only the long-range variant was capable of flying more than 20 hours and had a range of up to 9,700nm based on a “typical high premium cabin”.
“Obviously, the range is dependent on many things and of course and it depends on the payload conditions that you want to carry,” Lucas-Ugena told Australian Aviation in an interview from Toulouse on Monday.
“For these type of flights we count on a very, very high premium configuration normally.”
By comparison, the Airbus website states the standard A350-900 has a range of 8,100nm with “typical seating” for 325 passengers.
Lucas-Ugena said the modifications being tested and certified on the A350-900ULR would be available on future deliveries of the A350-900, such as the higher maximum takeoff weight and new wing twist and larger winglets.
The A350-900ULR’s short flight test program will not require any ultra long flights, given route proving flights by the standard A350-900 in 2014 already included very long sectors such as Johannesburg to Sydney and Auckland to Santiago.
An infographic on the Airbus A350-900ULR. (Airbus)
An infographic on the Airbus A350-900ULR. (Airbus)

Singapore Airlines has 67 A350 family aircraft on order, comprising 60 standard A350-900s and the seven A350-900ULRs. At March 31 it had taken delivery of 21 A350-900s, according to the Airbus website.
The airline is the only customer for the ultra long-range variant. The A350 program, which comprises the -900, -900ULR and -1000, has secured 854 firm orders from 45 customers, Airbus said.
Lucas-Ugena said the A350 family of aircraft offered airlines the ability to do a variety of missions, including the ultra long-haul market, with the same type.
“We are not after a market in particular,” she said.
“What we are offering our customers is the possibility, the flexibility, to go into that market with lower risk, with an airplane that is extremely efficient, extremely comfortable, very well suited for doing these types of flights.
“We know that not everybody is interested, it is not a big market, but there is some market and if that market can be covered with the same airplane that you have for covering the big part of your long-haul network, that is a fantastic versatility that this family is offering.”
Currently, Qantas operates the world’s second-longest nonstop passenger flight. The airline’s Perth-London Heathrow service (7,829nm) operated by Boeing 787-9s commenced on March 24. Qatar Airways’ Auckland-Doha nonstop flight tops the list at 7,848nm.
The A350-900ULR is up against the still-in-development Boeing 777-8X for Qantas’s Project Sunrise requirement.
It is understood Qantas is seeking an aircraft capable of carrying 300 passengers in both directions on both the New York and London routes, with a request for proposal expected some time in 2019.
A Qantas slide detailing its Project Sunrise ambitions. (Qantas)
A Qantas slide detailing its Project Sunrise ambitions. (Qantas)

Asked what the gap was between Qantas’s Project Sunrise requirements and the capability of the A350-900ULR, Lucas-Ugena said: “That is up to Qantas to say.”
“I guess the only thing we could say is what they make public which is that desire to fly that leg between Sydney and London and Sydney and New York,” Lucas-Ugena said.
“Of course, what Qantas, like any other airline, would like as well, is to have the right level of comfort for the passengers and the right level of efficiency so that they can really carry on with this flight.
“It’s the performance, but also the comfort and the efficiency of the airplane and we are better suited than anybody to offer that with the A350 family.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said recently Project Sunrise provided the airline an opportunity for new thinking in terms of passenger amenities for these ultra long haul services, including exercise areas and sleeping berths.
“Could some of the freight areas that we may not be able to use be used as an exercise area? Could they be used for berths for people to sleep in? What are the out there ideas that could apply to this and really change air travel for the future,” Joyce told guests at Aviation Club of the UK lunch in London on March 27.
“And nothing, nothing is off the table.”
Airbus aircraft interiors marketing director Florent Petteni noted the A350 family of aircraft featured technologies designed with ultra long-haul travel in mind, such as the quietness of the cabin, full LED lighting designed to help reduce the impact of jetlag, a fully dark cabin, as well as an air-conditioning and active humidification system that reduces draft while still renewing the air inside the cabin every two-three minutes.
“They will benefit from the A350 platform, which is recognised as one of the most comfortable that is currently flying in the sky in the twin-aisle family,” Petteni said.
Petteni said ideas around using the cargo areas for passenger activities was about being able to have a “fourth activity” on board the aircraft alongside eating, sleeping and watching video content/reading.
“What you have to keep in mind is the fact that those ULR flights, those nonstop flights, they will be in competition with the one-stop flight,” Petteni said.
“Passengers will have the choice either to stop somewhere midway or to take the ULR flight. Passengers who stop halfway they have a place where they can stretch, they have a place where they can chat, they can have coffee and do other things.”
“This is why people are looking into a fourth activity, be it stretching, be it a social area, be it a place where the passengers can benefit from this fourth activity.”

Comments (20)

  • Richard James


    What a beautiful aeroplane

  • Lechuga


    I personally don’t think it’ll do for Qantas, I’d love to see the A350 in service with Qantas anyway but the capacity is a bit of an issue. I think the 777X family is better suited to Qantas’ needs than the ULR.

  • Scott


    Will we see cargo hold beds and common areas on the ULR ? The answer is a definite no, if the manufactures are struggling to meet the specs payload V range for the initial request of 300 seats, does anyone really believe they could add Tons and tons of passenger cabin type amenities in an unused cargo hold and really believe this. Sounds like an attempt to stay in the media headlines.

  • Deepspa


    Agree Scott. However, having seen the cargo hold beds being designed by Zodiac for this ULR purpose, it is clear they are only intended for the very, very high premium market. Can someone ask Mr Joyce to clarify if these underfloor beds will be available to the masses. Or just a dozen or two for the ultra top end market that the airlines always say is where the profits are..

  • Graham


    I would like to see this in both Qantas and Air New Zealand colours, it definitely is worthy of consideration and a mixed fleet would not be a bad idea.

  • Peter


    QF are not expecting the A350-900ULR to meet their requirements for 300 passengers over the difficult SYD-LHR route. Airbus only have 1 customer for the A350-900ULR whereas Boeing has 7 customers for the B777X with folding wings.. Boeing are very coy about the range of the B777X.

  • Geoffherbert


    1….an ultra long range twin engined aircraft is only
    As good as its engines.
    2….Personally I would prefer four engines over these llong hauls.
    3 ….Engine reliability and the capacity of the remaining engine to handle stress are a matter of current concern both at Rolls Royce and the GE partners.

  • Harry Stottle


    Project “chronic fatigue” more like.

  • D bell


    To achieve an efficent ecconomies of scale, QF would need 8 or so airframes, based on CBA for crew training, engineering and spares and allow fow unplanned breakdowns. Can QF find pairings to meet that level of investment? I suspect not.

  • Stephen Boyce


    It seems the boeing 777-8 seems to be the better place to handle qantas requirements

  • Darren


    Would love to see the A350 in the QF fleet not the ULR version though,
    The 777X suits Qantas’ needs much better

  • Stuart Brown


    Perhaps we’re looking at it the wrong way, composite structure or aluminium lithium fuselage aircraft, are very light per passenger, hence the threat of weight charging, the surface area, of the streamlined part, of the aircraft doesn’t go up, much for the volume. So large reclining seats, exercise, or other areas, to stretch out in, don’t add so much weight, to the aircraft. By the time your talking about a 777, it’s pretty wide, long, tall, carrying around as many passengers, as the original 747, a passenger can weigh from 40 Kg’s to 160 Kg’s, it probably takes twice the passenger weight in fuel, to carry them from Sydney to London. Their luggage, probably only weighs 10-15 kgs, the crew, food and drink, for 20 hours, flushing water for the toilet, you’ll need 3 crews, they’ll all need food, drink, sleeping quarters.
    Automated food, drink and rubbish trolleys, robot arms, to fill and empty the trolleys, could save 9 crew, food, drink and sleeping quarters, for them, apps on the seat screen and smartphone apps, could alert the trolleys, which meal and drink, is for which seat and row. A better way to do it, would be to rail the meals, along the ceiling and lower them, to each passenger.

  • Craigy


    @ D Bell
    QF route plans for ULH are:
    1. SYD – LHR daily (2 airframes)
    2. MEL – LHR daily (2 airframes)
    3. SYD – JFK daily (2 airframes)
    4. SYD – CPT (if daily 2 airframes)
    5. SYD – GIG (if daily 2 airframes)
    There is at least 8 airframes required above
    There are other opportunities for destinations in Europe such as CDG and FRA from the East Coast, PTH to LHR or LAX, Or even BNE – LHR
    @ Peter Out of interest, what is your source for the statement that QF don’t expect the A359 ULR to meet their requirements?

  • Trogdor


    @DBell – I think you’ll find that Qantas will be looking for a large twin to replace the 747-ERs and A380s down the track – hence they’ll end up with quite a few non-ULR 777-9s or S350-1000s.
    The trick for the 777-9 will be matching the range of the A380, which the A350-1000 almost does.

  • Peter Sutton


    I wouldn’t hold your breath with this aircraft as Boeing has already got a 787 contender and I also believe that Qantas will opt for an all Boeing fleet

  • Ben


    Can anyone shed any light as to why QF don’t currently do SYD-CPT? Or for that matter why they haven’t been doing it for years? It’s ‘only’ 5,945 nm great circle distance and would be easily within the range of the 747-400/400ER. It’s quite a distance but not as far as SYD-LAX which has been served non stop since the days of the 747SP.
    As far as distance/flight times are concerned it’s nowhere near the current ULH flights, which are well in excess of 7,000 nm and certainly not near the other planned flights of project sunrise.
    Indeed, Cape Town is at a much lower altitude than Johannesburg so would be able to deliver much better aircraft performance on departure. Although I do appreciate Johannesburg is a busier airport/hub.
    I just can’t understand why Cape Town is being mentioned as part of project sunrise, when the range has never been an issue.

  • James


    @ Ben
    Perhaps they have done research on the route and they don’t believe that they would get sufficient loads. Just because they can doesn’t mean they will.

  • William


    Qantas want the capability to fly SYD/MEL/BNE-LHR/JFK with 300 pax in a spacious cabin. The A350-900ULR has the range but not the seating capacity, the 777-8 has the seating capacity but not the range.
    It’ll be interesting to see what Joyce picks if he does decide to go through with dropping the service stop in SIN for SYD-LHR and LAX for BNE-JFK

  • Trogdor


    @Ben – I agree. I would have thought that Cape Town was a perfect fit for a 789 rather than something larger. Unless they’re assuming CASA won’t graduate from the dark ages and allow ETOPS > 180 minutes.

  • David


    Can someone please explain to me in layman’s terms why CASA won’t allow Australian Airlines to fly a two engine plane to SCL and JNB among other places, when foreign airlines already do? I find it odd that LATAM and other foreign airlines can fly direct from SCL to Australia, yet Australian airlines can’t. Why aren’t foreign airlines subject to that same rules when flying to Australia as Australian Airlines? Why are we treated differently?

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