Hong Kong is helping test the world's newest passenger plane as Airbus' A350 arrives for a series of trial flights, the final step before the aircraft can be certified and delivered later this year.
Cathay Pacific Airways, with 46 orders for the medium-sized wide-body jets, is the model's second-biggest customer in Asia after Singapore Airlines with 70.
This was partly why Hong Kong and Singapore were the only two Asian cities chosen for the aircraft's global airworthiness test flights that included 14 locations, said Didier Evrard, Airbus' A350 programme chief.
The long-haul oriented A350 XWB, available in three sizes with 276, 315 and 369 seats respectively, is set to be the world's most fuel-efficient and modern jet to date for its usage of advanced composite materials. It promises to offer a quieter, wider cabin and 25 per cent better fuel efficiency compared to rival Boeing's 777.
Evrard said the prototype aircraft was making four return trips between Hong Kong and Singapore to test its performance in hot and humid weather before returning to its base in Toulouse, France, tomorrow.
The first delivery to Qatar Airways is scheduled for the end of the year pending certification in September.
Airbus has received 736 orders from 37 customers, mainly for the two bigger models.
"We are excited to see that this groundbreaking aircraft is getting closer to its entry into service," said Ivan Chu Kwok-leung, the chief executive of Cathay. "The A350 will be the backbone of our mid-sized wide-body fleet for long-haul destinations."
Cathay is expecting its first A350 in 2016 and will be operating 48 by 2020, including two leased. It is already operating the world's biggest fleet of A330s, Airbus' best-selling medium-sized aircraft which it is relaunching this month with a new engine option, the A330neo.
Hawaiian Airlines last week swapped its order for six A350-800s for the A330neo, reducing the number of orders for the smallest A350 model to only 28 and leading to industry concerns about the two models' overlap.
Evrard said the two models differed in positioning and range, with the A350 suited for routes longer than 10 hours.
He also said he expected mainland airlines to favour the A330 for domestic operations given its range.
Air China is the only mainland customer for the A350, with 10 orders.
The Boeing 787, A350's competitor model, flew to Hong Kong for its test flight in 2011.
Chu said Airbus' return with the A350, after testing its double-decker A380 here in 2006, highlighted the important position of the city on the world aviation stage.
The Airport Authority said it welcomed the A350 and hoped to see more environmentally friendly planes operating at the airport.