Airbus A321neo completes first flight after engine switch

Airbus's company logo is pictured at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, December 4, 2014. REUTERS/ Regis Duvignau

(Reuters) - Airbus AIR.PA said that its A321neo jetliner completed its first flight on Tuesday, making the trip using engines supplied by CFM International after a last-minute switch from turbines supplied by rival Pratt & Whitney UTX.N.

Airbus’ largest single-aisle aircraft took off from Hamburg, Germany, and landed safely five and a half hours later, Airbus said, an event marking the start of flight tests of the plane, a potent rival to Boeing’s largest 737 MAX.

The switch to CFM engines, known as the LEAP-1A and made by a joint venture of General Electric Co GE.N and Safran SA of France SAF.PA, comes after a problem emerged with the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engine that required extra time for cooling before restarting under some circumstances.

Airbus declined to comment on the reason for switching to CFM engines for the initial A321neo flight. But industry experts considered the move unusual because the Pratt-engine version of the A321neo is due is to enter service before the version with CFM engines.

Airbus said there’s no change in plans for delivery, with the Pratt-equipped A321neo still expected to reach customers at the end of 2016, and the CFM-equipped version in early 2017.

Pratt & Whitney noted that its Geared Turbofan is already carrying passengers on the smaller Airbus A320neo aircraft, the first version of which was delivered to Lufthansa LHAG.DE last month. The engine has met all of its performance targets, Pratt said.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Alan Crosby