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Over the past week, I have been with Airbus in Toulouse, France, taking part in the inspection process and test flights for the latest A350-900 XWB to leave the factory — the fifth destined for Lufthansa. This unique visit took TPG through all the steps Airbus and an airline go through when handing over the keys to a $311 million machine, including taking a seat in the cockpit for a pre-delivery test flight.

In this first of two posts, we will inspect the A350 nose to tail with the Airbus and Lufthansa engineers, taking a detailed look at a pristine jet. Tomorrow we will cover the test flights, pushing the aircraft to its limit.

The jet we inspected is one of Lufthansa’s order of 25. The German airline first took delivery this aircraft type in February this year, and has put it in service on routes from Munich (MUC) to Boston (BOS), New Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM).

The process before an Airbus delivery is known as ‘Customer Acceptance’ — the customer’s teams work with Airbus teams to test, inspect, check, and prepare the aircraft for delivery. During customer acceptance, the aircraft not only has to meet the strict technical criteria of both Airbus and the airline, but also pass various visual and physical inspections.

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This is when the airline and Airbus cabin teams thoroughly check the cabin looking for any defects, scratches, or irregularities with seats, tables and other surfaces, and with the lavatories, galleys and cabin walls installed by various Airbus suppliers.

Exterior

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As you can see in the image above, the aircraft still wears its test registration, F-WZNI, because it still belongs to Airbus — the transfer of title to Lufthansa has yet to take place. While a hefty deposit has already been paid, Airbus has not yet received the full agreed-upon price at this point. You can already see on the front landing gear doors and the top of the tail the last two letters of the jet’s future German registration, D-AIXE. But for now, this is still an airplane on the French register. As for the number below the registration, it tells us that this A350 is the 136th off the assembly line.

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Inspections were conducted all around the aircraft, and the teams were making notes of anything that looked out of the ordinary. On this brand new jet — it had flown only four times — everything was squeaky clean, making visual inspections much easier.

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During the checks, I was able to see parts of the main landing gear that were so factory-fresh a simple piece of dust was easily noticeable.

Here’s a closer look at the landing gear.

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Engines

I then took a closer look at the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines.

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The fan blades, cowling and other surfaces were crystal clean. You can really appreciate the design of these engines, when they’re this new.

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The nose radome was raised to check the ease of raising/lowering of the radome, as well as a look at the weather radar inside.

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Above the Aircraft 

Next, it was time to take to the skies…but not in the aircraft just yet! First, in a cherry-picker, for a visual inspection of the vertical tail plane (VTP).

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The views were incredible.

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From this angle, I was really able to appreciate the beautiful design of the Airbus A350 — the curved wings, extra wide-body fuselage, and the little hump for the satellite Wi-Fi.

Here’s a video:

While up there, the Lufthansa cabin engineer told me the VTP was “perfect” — it certainly was clean enough to see one’s reflection in it.

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Interior 

With my feet firmly back on the ground, it was time for the cabin inspections. They would continue the next day, during a test flight, to ensure everything operates fine when the aircraft is at 43,000ft, in turbulence, and more.

The cabin floor was protected by paper or plastic.

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Disposable protective overshoes still had to be worn, to ensure the cabin remained in perfect condition ahead of its handover to Lufthansa.

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On entry into the business-class cabin, you can see that it doesn’t feature any furnishings beyond the seats themselves. It’s practically the naked cabin, providing a blank canvas for a thorough inspection.

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We reclined each seat into the fully flat position, ensuring the recline was smooth, with no irregularities.

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We then tested the release/lock of the sliding inflight entertainment screens.

Any defects were noted, and a green sticker was placed onto the area affected, such as the overhead locker below. The defect was not visual, but instead detected by sound. Upon checking, opening and closing all overhead lockers, there was an incredibly faint scratching noise made when the door was released on this particular locker.

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Upon closer inspection it became apparent that there was likely an incredibly small bump in the surface of the locker, located on the edges, resulting in it scratching past the adjacent locker, and causing this noise during opening/closing. The noise was barely detectable, and I was impressed with the ability of the Airbus and Lufthansa teams to spot this minor defect.

You could see the core system of the Panasonic inflight entertainment, rather than the user-friendly IFE passengers are used to.

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In economy class, the clear area in front of the seats is where the premium economy cabin will go.

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These seats are installed at Lufthansa Technik’s maintenance facility in Munich, because they are not offered by Airbus.

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The lack of seats in the front section of the cabin made me appreciate the large windows of this aircraft.

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We also conducted a smoke alarm test, which you can see in this video:

I spotted a tiny defect in business class, where a decor foil meets a surface. This was noted.

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Overhead panels were sometimes removed and checked.

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Finally, after multiple hours of inspections, testing seats and tray tables, trying out the inflight entertainment and more, day 1 of customer acceptance concluded,. On day two we will take to the skies for a heavy-duty test flight, pushing the aircraft to the edges of the flight envelope, including banking left and right to almost 70 degrees. An ordinary flight would see bank angles of around 20 to 25 degrees. On day two, we’ll also put the cabin to further test, but this time, in the skies — on an empty test flight around the Mediterranean. Check back tomorrow for part two!

Know before you go.

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