ACJ350
ACJ350

Airbus ACJ350

It’s fast and efficient and its cabin is larger than most homes.

Five and eight may be small numbers, but Airbus is betting they’ll represent a big difference for its new A350-900 XWB (extra wide body). The model is five inches wider and, claims the manufacturer, 8 percent more fuel-efficient than Boeing’s 787, with which it will compete in the long-haul, twinjet market. In 2018, Airbus expects to introduce a stretched version of the aircraft, the A350-1000, to go head-to-head with Boeing’s even larger 777 twinjet.
After nearly five years of program delays that included a major redesign, and a tripling of its original development budget to nearly $15 billion, the airframer delivered the first A350 to the airlines late last year. Moreover, it claims to hold more than 780 orders from 41 carriers for the $254 million aircraft. (That price doesn’t include cabin completion; the airplane costs $295 million in airline configuration.) The manufacturer expects production to increase to 10 per month by 2018 and for the 350 program to account for as much as 40 percent of Airbus’s revenues over the next 20 to 30 years.
A version is being offered to the VIP market called the ACJ (Airbus Corporate Jet) 350. In typical executive configuration with 25 passengers, it will have an unrefueled range of 10,050 nautical miles—about 20 hours in the air—allowing direct connection between most major city pairs on the globe.
Top speed is Mach 0.89. The cabin measures nearly 170 feet long, more than 18 feet wide and eight feet tall, yielding almost 3,000 square feet of floor space. Maximum takeoff weight is close to 600,000 pounds.
Obviously, a bird this big can’t land just anywhere: it needs 6,100 feet to stop. Takeoff distance at maximum weight is 8,770 feet.
Airbus hopes to avoid the sort of delays and heartburn Boeing encountered with the 787, including lithium-ion backup-battery fires and a forced grounding. The A350 uses a different backup-battery technology, and Airbus says its flight-test program came as close as possible to emulating operational conditions. Airbus called this program “Airline 1,” and it incorporated all documentation and tools used by the airlines, with the goal of minimizing teething problems after initial entry into service using live maintenance datalinks between the test aircraft and Airbus’s maintenance control center.  
The company is upgrading its product support with customized per-flight-hour service agreements that cover a wide variety of maintenance issues, including component loan and exchanges, repairs and modifications. The Airbus also benefits from being able to integrate more technological advances into the 350’s design simply because it is being launched six years after the 787.  
However, the A350 suffers from much of the same type of complex supply chain that initially vexed the 787: major components come from no fewer than 10 sites within the European Union as well as China, Japan and the U.S. In-service aircraft already have been subject to a rash of service bulletins, most related to the cabin electronics. This isn’t unusual for a new aircraft, however.
While the 350’s cabin is wider than the 787’s, the windows on the latter are noticeably larger and feature electro-chromatic dimming, while the Airbus relies on old-technology eletro-mechanical shades. The larger windows on the 787 create the illusion of more interior space. However, the smaller windows on the A350 mean the cabin is marginally quieter. The claimed fuel-efficiency advantage over the 787 appears to come from Airbus’s increased use of composites—53 percent versus 50 percent on the 787. The Airbus also employs a new winglet design called a “Sharklet,” which reduces drag and boosts top speed from Mach 0.85 to Mach 0.89. The two aircraft feature the same engine technology. Given the thrust these engines generate, they’re remarkably quiet.
With so much space to work with, the interior options on the ACJ350 are limited only by what you care to spend. Airbus has floated a few ideas, including a grand entryway; above-deck crew rest areas; forward and mid-cabin gourmet galleys; a forward master stateroom suite with bedroom, bathroom with shower and private office; a mid-cabin lounge; an oversized circular dining table with seating for 10; three junior staterooms with shared bathroom and shower; and an aft cabin media room/theatre with a dozen reclining seats and a large flat-screen monitor mounted to the aft bulkhead.
Only something the size of the ACJ350 could provide this kind of luxury and flexibility.


Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft types.

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