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But Boeing faced its own delays and problems with the 787, and analysts say Airbus is now trying to position itself as the airplane manufacturer that can get the job done.
"Boeing has the broader product line but they are still struggling under the shadows of the 787 nightmare and they seem unenthusiastic about launching new products," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. "Airbus has its chance to show themselves as the opposite of that."
It was nearly two years after Boeing's first flight of the 787 until the first passengers stepped onboard the jet. Aboulafia expects a similar timeframe for the A350.
However, he notes about Airbus: "So far they have surprised, positively."
Airbus hopes the timeframe is shorter. It's aiming to deliver the first A350 to Qatar Airways in the second half of next year.
The Toulouse-based company said the plane that flew on Friday will get a detailed inspection that will take two or three days before the plane flies for a second time. After that, it expects flight testing to take a little more than a year, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier said in a video released by the company. About 2,500 hours of flight testing are planned.
Eric Bernardini, a consultant at AlixPartners who follows the aerospace industry, said, Airbus designers "have matured a lot in their development process." Bernardini said the Airbus CEO "was always insisting on simplicity and not overcomplicating the design and having a monster that is difficult to manufacture."
The A350 will compete against larger versions of Boeing's new 787, but is also aimed at Boeing's 777-300ER, which has been a runaway hit with airlines. The original 777 design is aging - it first flew in 1994. Airbus said that eight out of 10 customers for the 777-300 ER have ordered A350s. U.S. customers for the A350 include United Continental Holdings Inc. and Hawaiian Airlines.
The biggest A350 will carry roughly 350 passengers, slightly fewer than a 777-300ER. Planes like that are generally used on long-haul international flights. Those planes have turned out to be popular with airlines who want large aircraft - but not superjumbos like the Airbus A380 or Boeing's new 747-8i. Sales of those two giants have been disappointing.
Boeing is considering whether to build a new version of its 777, now called the 777X, which would boost fuel efficiency with new carbon-fiber wings and new engines. Boeing is widely expected to announce a final decision about building the 777 at next week's Paris Air Show.
A year ago, at the Paris Air Show's sister event in Britain, Boeing beat Airbus for the number of orders announced. The two companies vie closely each year for the title of world's biggest plane maker, and the race is as tight as ever.