Flying from Abu Dhabi to Paris on Thursday, it marks the first time that a UAE airline has operated the twin-aisle plane.
Registered A6-XWB, the new Etihad jet, with its streamlined nose and wraparound cockpit windows, departed from the UAE capital at about 7.50am on Thursday. It is expected to land at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris at 1pm on Thursday.
Sporting Airbus's first carbon-fibre fuselage and powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, the A350-1000 is one of the most efficient aircraft in the world.
It was flown by Captain Andre Cossette, one of Etihad’s most experienced Airbus pilots. Alongside him were Captain Ahmed Rashdy and First Officer Zayed Al Tamimi.
“The Airbus A350 is an absolutely incredible aircraft and we are proud to introduce it into the Etihad Airways network today," said Tony Douglas, group chief executive at Etihad.
"Our teams have worked closely together to craft a product and travel proposition that will ensure every journey with Etihad is a choice well made — both for our guests and for the planet."
Airbus says the jet offers 25 per cent less fuel burn and carbon dioxide emissions than previous-generation twin-aisle aircraft. It has also slashed its noise footprint by 50 per cent.
This is one of the reasons that Etihad has named the jet Sustainbility50. The aircraft's custom livery pays tribute to both the UAE's Golden Jubilee and Etihad's commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Etihad will now use the jet in the airline's industry-leading sustainability drive, as part of a programme aimed at decarbonising aviation. It will operate as a test bed for new initiatives, similar to Etihad's Greenliner programme with Boeing, which uses the B787 aircraft.
"This marks the start of a promising new chapter for the UAE’s aviation sector, led by innovation and a commitment to sustainability," said Mikail Houari, president of Airbus Africa and Middle East.
Plane-spotters keen to identify the A350 from the ground can look out for its tapered wings, which Airbus says make the plane faster and more efficient. These include winglet-type devices known as sharklets, which help to reduce aerodynamic drag.
Inside, there's plenty for passengers to take note of.
About 16 million different colours allow for customisable LED lighting that can simulate different times of day, allowing the aircraft to mimic sunrise or sunset and help minimise the effect of jet lag on passengers. It's also a quiet ride, with four times less noise in the cabin than previous-generation aircraft.
Business studios and extra legroom in economy
The A350 can accommodate more than 400 passengers in an all-economy layout, but Etihad has arranged the aircraft with fewer seats than that — and in only two classes, business and economy, with no first or premium economy.
The business class cabin is furnished with 44 studios, each with a sliding door to ensure privacy.
Set out in a 1-2-1 layout, all suites offer direct aisle access, while wide reclining seats at more than 50 centimetres convert into fully flat beds. There's also ample storage, noise-cancelling headphones, built-in wireless charging docks and Bluetooth headphone pairing. A new dark mode on the in-flight entertainment system allows travellers to rest easy.
The back of the aircraft has 327 economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. Extra-wide cabins, the largest overhead luggage bins in the market and the industry's highest ceilings help create a sense of space.
Travellers flying in economy can also opt to book one of 45 Etihad Space seats for neighbour-free seating, although that's not guaranteed, and an extra 10cm of legroom.
Etihad's A350 will fly to India and the US
Etihad’s inaugural flight is destined for France, the headquarters of Airbus, but the jet won’t regularly operate on this route.
It will be used on a number of short to mid-range routes starting in April, with both Mumbai and New Delhi featuring on the network.
In July, the aircraft will make more use of its 16-hour flying range when it is introduced on ultra-long-haul operations to Chicago and New York.
More destinations are expected to be added to Etihad's A350 network as the airline receives four additional jets over the coming months and when the airline's next order is received, its likely that the airline will operate the jets to Australia and Northwest Europe.