European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has announced that it could fly its new A350 XWB for the first time as early as this Friday, a major step on the plane's road to commercial certification. If everything goes according to plan, the A350 could be in service with airlines as early as the second half of next year.

In many ways, the A350 is Europe's answer to Boeing's vaunted (and troubled) 787: like the Dreamliner, Airbus's latest is a two-aisle, long-range model that leans heavily on composite materials in place of metal to lighten the aircraft and burn significantly less fuel than the older airliners that it's designed to replace. The company could stand to capitalize on the 787's launch hiccups, most notably the battery troubles that grounded service globally for several months.

Provided engineers don't run into issues and the weather holds, the first flight is planned for 10AM CET out of France's Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, home to a major Airbus manufacturing facility where the A350 XWB is being assembled.