European aircraft manufacturer Airbus’ new mid-size, long-range A350 jet took to the skies for the first time on Friday in Toulouse, for a four-hour test flight designed to showcase its capabilities on the eve of the Paris Air Show.

Watched by thousands of Airbus employees, journalists and residents, the new aircraft lifted into partly cloudy skies above the French home of Airbus at 8 am GMT.

The A350 is designed as a competitor to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner in the market for mid-sized, long-range aircraft, which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Smaller than the A380 superjumbo, the A350 will have a capacity of between 270 and 350 passengers and is scheduled to enter service in late 2014. The plane uses light carbon-composite materials instead of aluminium, allowing airlines to make savings on fuel.

The test comes three days before the start of the biennial Paris Air Show, where Airbus and Boeing will do battle for aircraft orders.

Airbus has already booked orders for 613 A350s.