Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A380 takes off for maiden flight

The world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, is on its long-awaited maiden flight.

Thousands of aeroplane enthusiasts, many of them clapping and cheering, witnessed the twin-deck "superjumbo" taking to the air for the first time.

The flight was due to last between two and four hours, depending on weather conditions and how the plane handled.

It took off from its production site in Toulouse, France with a crew of six and about 20 tonnes of test equipment.

Airbus, which is owned by European firm EADS and the UK's BAE Systems, sees the A380 as the future of air travel.

Arch-rival Boeing has instead chosen to focus on mid-sized long-haul aircraft like its new 787 and its benchmark 747 jumbo jet.

Take off

The A380 - designed to carry as many as 840 people between major airports - took off from its production site in southern France at just after 0830 GMT.

Airbus A380 taking off on its maiden flight from Toulouse, southern France

The crew was expected to take the plane out over the Bay of Biscay, before returning to base.

Most of the tests will be carried out at 10,000 feet and within 100 miles of Toulouse, said Peter Chandler, deputy project pilot for the A380.

He added that the plane was flying with its wheels down as a safety measure, and that the A380's hydraulics and electrics had all been tested while it was on the ground.

During the flight, there will be a live satellite feed of data which will be monitored by a team of experts on the ground, Airbus said.

'We are confident'

Earlier Airbus test pilot Jacques Rosay told the BBC: "We are confident with what has been done up to today.

"But we still have some doubts. We have to be very careful during all the flight because, as you say, when you are looking at new things, something may happen.

A380 facts
Its wings are built in Broughton, North Wales
Originally called the A3XX
The '8' represents the plane's double-decks and is a symbol of success in Asia
By 2016, the A380 will account for one in eight flights out of Heathrow

"But we are still very confident."

The crew was equipped with parachutes. A handrail has been fitted, leading from the cockpit to an escape door.

More than 50,000 people are thought to have watched the take-off, many of them sitting on the grass banks that line the runway.

The take-off was also broadcast live on television and thousands watched via a giant screen in Toulouse's main square.

Thorough checks

More than a year of flight-testing and certification-programme work will now follow before the A380 starts commercial services.

Pilots will then have to push the plane far harder then they have on Wednesday, testing for extremes of speed, altitude and temperature, experts said.

The project, hailed as a European success story by leaders including France's President Jacques Chirac, has had its share of problems.

In December 2004, Airbus' main shareholder EADS, which has an 80% stake, revealed that the project was £1bn (1.5bn euros; $1.9bn) over budget, at more than £8.4bn.

The UK's BAE Systems owns the remaining 20% of Airbus.



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