Once the configuration is frozen, performance and certification testing begin in earnest. MSN003, the second A350, due to make its first flight in October, is mainly tasked with the performance and engine testing. Autoland and landing performance trials are set to commence following the freeze. The first realistic figures on fuel burn will become available in that phase, too.
Not all of the current flying is devoted to establishing the right configuration; systems-testing and handling-quality work is also included, particularly when external factors do not allow programs such as climb performance runs. These took place in late August, says Airbus Chief Test Pilot Peter Chandler.
Twenty of Airbus's 28 test pilots have already flown the A350, and the remaining few will have logged at least one A350 flight by the end of the month, when they return from summer vacations.
With MSN003 in place, the program until the end of the year will include engine and performance testing, and all the flutter testing, including those run at the highest speeds.
Icing trials are planned for November and will likely take place in France, given the expected weather conditions. The Dubai Airshow, which opens Nov. 16, might be the first occasion for the A350 to land at an airport outside of Europe.
The A350 will be spending more time abroad for hot-and-high tests. These could still happen before the end of the year or they could shift into early 2014, depending on progress achieved in the other areas. These trials are to take place in South America, possibly in La Paz, Bolivia, although Airbus has not confirmed the site. La Paz has been used for such trials in previous campaigns, including for the A340-600.
Airbus plans to use a fleet of four aircraft to achieve certification by the middle of 2014. Overall, 2,500 flight hours will have been devoted to the test program. Qatar Airways will be the first airline to take delivery of an A350, likely in third-quarter 2014. Airbus holds 682 firm orders for the A350, 448 of which have been placed for the -900 baseline version.