Airbus's newest aircraft, A350, takes off on maiden flight

TOULOUSE (AFP) - Airbus's next-generation A350 plane took off on its first test flight on Friday, in a milestone for an airliner that the firm hopes will challenge Boeing's 787 Dreamliner in the lucrative long-haul market.

With hundreds of cheering supporters looking on, the plane took off from the airport in the French city of Toulouse for a flight due to last four hours.

Airbus is predicting hundreds of orders for the A350 at next week's Paris Air Show as the European company ups the fight against Boeing.

The A350 - more than half of which is made of light composite materials that reduce fuel costs - was crewed for its maiden flight by a British and a French test pilot assisted by a flight engineer and three other engineers at the back.

The plane is now set to enter a test-flying period that Airbus hopes will last less than 18 months, with the first delivery expected at the end of next year. Confirmed customers so far include Qatar Airways, British Airways and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific.

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