First A330neo takes flight over southern France

The A330neo prepares for takeoff in Toulouse

The A330neo prepares for takeoff in Toulouse

Airbus AIR.PA on Thursday began the maiden flight of its A330neo jetliner, an upgraded version of its profitable A330 line created to sharpen competition with the latest version of Boeing's BA.N 787 Dreamliner.

The maiden flight by the A330-900 took place over southwestern France.

Both models of the A330neo generation - A330-800 and A330-900 - accommodate 257 and 287 passengers respectively in a three-class seating layout.

Following the maiden flight, the type will need to accumulate around 1,400 hours to validate and assess handling characteristics, system operations, engine performance and cabin functionalities, the test program will use two A330-900neos and one A330-800neo to achieve this. It will be joined in the flight test programme by another -900 and one -800.

Key features of A330neo new generation technology include Rolls-Royce's new Trent 7000 turbofan engines, themselves incorporating technology from the Trent XWB that power the A350 and new high-span wings incorporating optimised aerodynamics with new composite Sharklets.

Airbus hopes the A330neo will bolster its position in the 250-300 seat long-haul market, a sector where it is coming under increasing pressure from arch-rival Boeing, whose 787 has recently proved more popular with airlines. To date, 10 customers have announced orders for a total of 212 A330neos - nearly all of which are for the larger -900 version.

The A330-900 is planned to receive type certification and enter service with TAP Portugal as the initial airline operator by mid-2018.

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