It was a milestone for aviation and a battle won for European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
The world's largest passenger plane "” the Airbus A380 "” made its maiden flight yesterday.
The double-decked, 308-ton plane landed successfully after a four-hour flight. About 30,000 spectators gathered to watch what some said was Europe's biggest aviation event since the first flight of the supersonic Concorde in 1969.
Fasten your seatbelts Emergency services took no chances and stationed fire trucks at regular intervals along the runway.
The plane carried a crew of six and 22 tons of on-board test instruments. It can carry as many as 840 passengers on commercial flights.
Chief test pilot Jacques Rosay, co-pilot Claude Lelaie and four fellow crew members took no chances "” donning parachutes for the first flight.
A handrail inside the test plane lead from the cockpit to an escape door that could have been jettisoned had the pilots lost control.
The pilots checked the plane's basic handling characteristics while the
on-board equipment recorded measurements for 150,000 separate parameters and beamed real-time data back to computers on the ground.
"The takeoff was absolutely perfect," Rosay told reporters by radio from the A380 cockpit about an hour into the flight.
The A380 weighed 464 tons on takeoff, including its bulky test equipment, fittings and fuel, Airbus said. That is about 75 percent of its maximum authorised takeoff weight for commercial flights.
The flight capped 11 years of preparation and $13 billion in spending.
"You handle (this aircraft) as you handle a bicycle. It's very, very easy to fly," Rosay said after landing.
Problems are likely, but rare, later in the test-flight programme, when the pilots deliberately take the plane to its limits. Airbus says the A380 test-flight program is likely to take over a year and finish soon before the plane enters service for Singapore Airlines in mid-2006.
Profit or loss
The A380, with a catalogue price of $282 million, represents a huge bet by Airbus that airlines will need plenty of large aircraft to transport passengers between ever-busier hub airports.
So far, Airbus has booked 154 orders for the A380. But it has yet to prove that it can turn a profit on its investment, a third of which came from European governments.
Some analysts say signs of a boom in the market for smaller, long-range jets like Boeing's "Dreamliner" show that Airbus was wrong to focus resources on the superjumbo at the expense of its own mid-sized A350 "” which enters service in 2010, two years after its Boeing rival.
But Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard played down Boeing's recent orders and the 787's development lead, saying the battle for the market in smaller planes would be fought out over 20 years, not two.
He congratulated the A380 development and test-flight team for a "fantastic collective effort" and said the plane would enter service in the "second half of 2006."
The head of competitor Boeing's French division, Yves Galland, said he watched the televised takeoff and, just this once, "shared the emotion of the people of Airbus."
Another interesting article on this new jumbo jet:
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