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Boeing rival Airbus cheers maiden flight of A350

PARIS — Airbus sent a new wide-body plane into the skies Friday that sets the stage for intensifying competition with US rival Boeing.

After years of delays and a revamp that cost billions, the A350 cruised for four hours above southern France. Most importantly, it then landed safely. It met ear-to-ear smiles — and some sighs of relief — among Airbus engineers and executives.

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The maiden flight marks a key step on the path to full certification for the jet, which can carry 250 to 400 passengers and is the European aircraft-maker’s best hope for catching up in a long-haul market dominated by Boeing’s 777 and the new 787, known as the Dreamliner.

Airbus has 613 orders for the A350, and hopes Friday’s flight will bring it momentum heading into next week’s Paris Air Show.

More than half of the twin-engine A350 consists of lightweight carbon-fiber designed to save on jet fuel, which makes up half the cost of long-haul flights.

Airbus says the A350 is 25 percent more fuel-efficient than comparable planes.

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