The Airbus A380, the largest passenger airplane ever built, successfully took to the air in cloudless skies over the Southern French City of Toulouse yesterday, April 27, 2005. Pilots, engineers and ground crews reported no problems as the giant aircraft completed a test flight of nearly four hours.
The huge double-decked aircraft, which is designed to carry around 550 passengers, but could hold more than 800, has been in the planning stages since 1996. Airbus Industrie has been actively working on it since 2000. Its target market is aimed directly at Boeing’s aging 747, which has dominated the large commercial aircraft market for 30 years.
The A380 is 73 meters (226 feet) long, 24.1 meters high (nearly 75 feet) and has an interior cabin width of 6.58 meters (20.4 feet). By comparison the latest version of the 747 measures 70.7 meters (219 feet) in length, 19.4 meters (60 feet) in height and has an interior cabin width of 6.1 meters (almost 19 feet).
Numerous documentary reports on the new plane have shown it equipped with lavish accommodations, including bars, salons and recreation areas, especially in the areas designated for first class and business passengers. Many commentators, however, have questioned whether these will become reality, given the cost structure of the airline industry. Companies are virtually required to cram as many bodies into as many seats as they can in order to reach economies of scale.
In other ways the plane is certainly state of the art. Its specially designed Rolls Royce engines are the most fuel-efficient and the quietest jet engines ever built. The cabin has around 50 percent more useable space than a 747, and the plane’s range is around 15,000 kilometers (9000 miles).
So far Airbus has received 154 confirmed orders for the A 380. It needs to sell around 250, at a list price of $258 million per plane, before it recoups the 12 billion euros ($15.5 billion) cost of the project. It’s already over its budget by 1.45 billion euros ($1.88 billion).
There are also problems in upgrading existing airport facilities to handle the Superjumbo. These include strengthening and lengthening runways and expanding passport control and baggage handling to accommodate the number of people that will disembark all at once. While no estimates of the additional costs of insuring the plane are yet available, these too will increase in proportion to the additional risk involved in covering the giant aircraft.
Assuming all of the yearlong tests are successfully completed, the A380 is scheduled to begin commercial service by the end of 2006.
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