Airbus has rolled out the first ultra-long-range (ULR) variant of its A350 widebody.
Based on the A350-900, the A350 ULR incorporates several engineering changes to extend its range from 8,100nm to 9,700nm – or about 20 hours non-stop flying. Maximum take-off weight is 280 tonnes.
To achieve this, the A350-900 ULR has a modified fuel system that can carry an extra 24,000 litres without additional fuel tanks, as well as aerodynamic improvements such as extended winglets.
Following completion of the airframe assembly, the first aircraft has now moved to an outdoor station where it will undergo ground tests, prior to installation of its Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines
It will then embark on a short flight test program to certify the changes the give the extra range. The test phase will also measure performance gains derived from aerodynamic improvements.
The addition of the A350 ULR to the in-service aircraft adds to an aftermarket forecast to generate strong demand, according to data from Aviation Week’s 2018 Fleet & MRO Forecast. From 2018 to 2027, the aircraft has a projected year-on-year MRO growth rate of 26.3%, with line maintenance (37%) expected to account for the majority of work over a 10-year period.
Launch customer Singapore Airlines (SIA), based in an Asia-Pacific region projected by Aviation Week to generate $8 billion of MRO work from now until 2027, will take seven of the new aircraft as part of an order for 67 A350-900s and will use the ULR variant to reinstate the world’s longest route, from Singapore to New York.
The airline operated the service until 2012 using four-engine A340-500 aircraft on a 9,000nm polar route that took about 18 hours.
While the A350 ULR can seat between 250 and 300 passengers, it has been reported that SIA will install a cabin of 170 mostly business class seats for its longest routes.
SIA phased out its last A340 in 2013, and the current holder of the world’s longest flight is Qatar Airways, which operates its 7,850nm Doha-Auckland service with Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.
The Gulf carrier is also a launch customer for a new A350 model, having taken the first A350-1000 in late February 2018. The 366-seat aircraft has an almost 8,000nm range, states Airbus.