Five questions answered on the Airbus A350

A successful maiden test flight.

Airbus’s newest plane, the Airbus A350, successfully completed its first flight today. We answer five questions on the latest in plane technology.

Where did the Airbus A350 go on its maiden test flight?

The plane took off from Blagnac, in the French city of Toulouse this morning and after a four hour trip landed back there at 1pm this afternoon.

What’s special about the Airbus A350?

It is designed to be more fuel efficient – something that is very important to modern aviation with the high cost of fuel – using 25 per cent less fuel than previous generation wide-bodied aircraft. It is also a direct competitor to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and is said to be pivotal to the future of Airbus.

Have airbus received any orders for the A350 yet?

Yes. The European aviation company has taken more than 600 orders for the new plane. It aims to deliver them by 2014.

What other key components are there about the A350?

Its engine is made by Rolls-Royce and it is made of advanced material such as carbon which help save on weight.

Some of its parts are also made in the UK, such as the plane's wings which were designed at an Airbus facility in Filton near Bristol. They are manufactured at Broughton in Wales.

What are the aviation experts saying?

"All recent programmes before it, both by Airbus, Boeing and others, have had reasonably horrendous technical problems and delays," said Nick Cunningham, an aviation analyst at the London-based Agency Partners, speaking to French agency AFP.

"So every time you hit a milestone (such as a test flight), it's good news because it means that you've missed an opportunity to have another big delay."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.