There's a new plane on the horizon: the Airbus A350-1000, a longer version of the A350-900 already flying with airlines like Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Hong Kong Airlines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, but capable of carrying even more passengers.
Inside, the experience is much the same as on the A350-900 – for instance, the ‘cabin altitude’ remains at 6,000ft to help smack down jet lag, as opposed to 8,000ft on older jets – but Airbus’ own test plane is a little different, as we came to discover.
Australian Business Traveller took Airbus’ A350-1000 on an invitation-only flight above Sydney to bring you this first-hand report, before the first paying passengers get their chance to fly the A350-1000, in Qatar Airways' colours later this month.
Rather than boarding from a typical airport terminal, this journey begins at the Qantas Jetbase at Sydney Airport: normally a centre for maintenance and pilot training, but also the temporary home of the A350-1000 while on Australian soil:
Once on board, there's no mistaking which aircraft you're flying on:
Airbus' test plane is fitted with a mock-up of business class and economy, but Airbus has done itself no favours at the pointy end: installing typical, off-the-shelf business class seats on its demo jet, leaving it to the airlines to design and customise their own cabins.
As on the A350-900, the A350-1000 has same mood lighting abilities, which airlines can tweak as desired: whether that's simulating sunrises or sunsets on long flights, or even the Northern Lights in the case of Finnair.
On this flight, however, Airbus stuck with safe, solid colours:
The plane comes fitted with exterior cameras as standard. It's up to the airlines whether these are made available to passengers via the inflight entertainment system, and on today's flight, all were open for viewing: and it's not often you get a view like this with another aircraft parked so close:
As this is an Airbus-branded private jet, Airbus screens its own unique safety demonstration before take-off, showing an aircraft cabin drawn in pencil (easier to customise, that way!), and with flight attendants in a generic Airbus uniform.
The safety card in the seat pocket adopts a similar approach...
... but this is no 'normal' private jet: Airbus used this particular A350-1000, along with two others in Airbus colours, to get its largest member of the A350 family certified to fly commercially and carry passengers.
That means there are no showers, office suites, private bedrooms or conference rooms here: instead, a plethora of aircraft testing equipment dotted throughout the cabin, beginning with tools to measure humidity...
... an array of temperature sensors, placed on specific panels which help measure heat entering the aircraft and how different materials located inside the cabin walls can influence this...
... and plenty more below deck: all of which are monitored by flight test engineers at a purpose-built station in the middle of the cabin, where the cockpit displays can be seen too.
On this particular flight, no specific tests were being carried out, but the engineers were still on-hand to make sure everything was running smoothly.
This included a scenic flyover of Sydney Harbour towards the end of the journey...
... after zipping around Sydney in a loop for about an hour:
On a trek this short, sleeping wasn't a priority: but for longer voyages, there's a secret space upstairs where cabin crew can venture for a nap...
... and while it's quite squeezy, each crew member gets their own bunk with a curtain for privacy, and even an inflight entertainment screen if they just can't sleep, or want to check on the progress of the flight (and the amount of time remaining on their break).
As with most cabin features, the decision to fit crew rest facilities is left to each airline, with the first commercial Airbus A350-1000 delivery set for February 20, to Qatar Airways.
That'll be a different physical plane than this Airbus test aircraft, which continues its journey onward from Sydney to Auckland, Tokyo and then Manila, before returning home to Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France.
As to where Qatar will fly its own shiny A350-1000: well, for now, that's a secret.
Chris Chamberlin travelled on the Airbus A350-1000 test aircraft as a guest of Airbus.