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New Aircraft on the Horizon: Boeing 787 Variants & The Airbus A350

Frequent fliers and plane spotters may soon see some new aircraft in the skies and on the tarmacs. The Airbus A350 is expected to debut in November 2014 bearing a Qatar Airways livery, while the Boeing 787-9 will have its first scheduled commercial flight in October on Air New Zealand's Auckland to Perth route.

Boeing 787-9

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a wide-body, long-range twin-engine jet that entered commercial service back in October 2011. Although the aircraft has had its share of troubles – in particular, on-board fires linked to the craft's lithium-ion batteries – it's won praise thanks to its fuel economy and features designed to reduce passenger jetlag as well as cabin noise.

The 787-9 variant will be 206 feet long, which is 20 feet longer than the 787-8 base model. It seats 280 passengers in a typical three-cabin configuration (versus 210 passengers in the 787-8) and has a range of 8,300 nautical miles, which is along longer than the 787-8. The Boeing 787-9 is expected to compete with the Airbus A330.

Air New Zealand was the first to take delivery of the 787-9, with All Nippon Airways and United Airlines to follow suit. Others that have placed orders for the 787-9 include Etihad, American Airlines, Air France, KLM, Air Canada and Japan Airlines.

Airbus A350 XWB

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus also has a new plane entering scheduled service in the fall of 2014. The Airbus A350 XWB is also a wide-body, long-range twin-engine jet. The plane will carry 250 to 350 passengers in a three-cabin configuration. Qatar Airways has ordered 80 A350s, which is expected to have three variants. The A350-900, which is the first model to roll off of assembly lines, seats 314 passengers, is 219 feet long and has a range of 8,100 nautical miles. It is expected to complete with the Boeing 777-200ER and replace the Airbus A340-300.

In additional to Qatar Airways, other airlines that have placed orders for the A350 include Singapore Airlines, Etihad, TAM Airlines, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa.

Future variants of the A350 include the -800, which is expected to begin commercial flights in mid-2016, and the -1000, which should make its commercial launch in mid-2017. The -800 will feature a slightly shorter fuselage and less passenger seating, with a slightly longer range than the -900. The -1000 will features is a stretched fuselage and additional passenger seating, also with a longer flying range than the -900.

Boeing 787-10

In another four or five years, expect to see airlines begin to fly the next variant of the 787: The 787-10. This model will be 224 feet long, with a range of 7,000 nautical miles and the capacity to seat 330 passengers in a three-cabin configuration. Singapore Airlines was the first to order the 787-10 and is expected to begin flying the aircraft in 2018 or 2019. Etihad, United Airlines and British Airways have also placed orders for the plane, which is expected to compete with the Airbus A350.

Other Aircraft on the Horizon

Innovation never stops at aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus.

At Airbus, the A320neo family of aircraft – intended to replace the A320 family – is scheduled to take its first flight this month and get introduced into serve in October 2015. "Neo" stands for "new engine option," but that's not the only change passengers should expect to see. The A320neo planes will have lower fuel consumption and fewer emissions, cabins with larger overhead luggage storage, an increased flight range and more passengers per cabin.

Meanwhile, in 2017 Boeing is expected to roll out the Boeing 737 MAX family of planes, which will replace the Boeing 737 Next Generation family of planes. The planes are expected to have lower fuel consumption, use more efficient engines and more passenger seating.

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