Airbus flies to the rescue of EU treaty

27th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 27 (AFP) - European leaders hailed the maiden flight Wednesday of the world's biggest airliner, the Airbus A380, calling it a prime example of continental know-how and suggesting it was an incentive to ratify the EU's draft constitution next month.

PARIS, April 27 (AFP) - European leaders hailed the maiden flight Wednesday of the world's biggest airliner, the Airbus A380, calling it a prime example of continental know-how and suggesting it was an incentive to ratify the EU's draft constitution next month.  

The flight was "the finest response to those who doubt Europe's concrete character," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, French health minister and former mayor of Toulouse, the city where Airbus is based and where the flight took place.  

"Watching the A380's takeoff between (French) Airbus boss Noel Forgeard, German shareholders' representative Manfred Bischoff, and British and Spanish industrialists gives a feeling of the community's economic and political existence," added the government's official envoy.  

Airbus is 80 percent owned by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company and 20 percent by BAE Systems of Britain.  

EADS itself comprises industrial groups from France, Germany and Spain.  

Douste-Blazy's enthusiasm was shared by thousands of onlookers who cheered as the double-decker behemoth took to the skies.  

"It's majestic, we thought it would be massive but not at all, it's elegant and quiet," gushed pensioner Michel Robert.  

Amateur pilot and pharmacist Bertrand Pinel and friends toasted the flight with champagne.  

"The Egyptians built Thebes and Luxor. This is on the same scale, without the slaves," he joked.  

In Brussels, the European Commission called the gigantic plane's debut a "success story".  

"The A380's development shows what Europe can do through cooperation and investment in skills, research and technologies," said industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen, a German national.  

French President Jacques Chirac pointed to the "magnificent result of European industrial cooperation", and in Berlin, deputy economy minister Ditmar Staffelt called the flight "proof of Europe's high technical capabilities".  

Images of the plane sailing into sunny skies above southern France boosted supporters of the European Union's draft constitution, the future of which is clouded by polls that show it might be rejected by French voters in a May 29 referendum.  

Douste-Blazy could well have had that in mind when he said: "The only question now is what the next visionary project for all Europeans will be ... projects that are first political and then economic."  

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie also underscored the European nature of the day, saying: "It is certain it would have been much harder to obtain such a result if we had not done it within a European framework."  

The flight filled Spain with pride, since in addition to the participation in EADS of Spanish aerospace group CASA, one of six crew members onboard the plane was 49-year-old Spanish engineer Fernando Alonso, who has worked at Airbus for 23 years.  

Amid the chorus of cheers that greeted the flight, two voices nonetheless dared sing slightly dissonant tunes.  

Simone Nerome, president of an association that groups residents living near Charles de Gaulle airport north of Paris who will see - and hear - a lot of the A380 in years to come, was on hand to measure noise levels that Airbus vows will fall below that of Boeing's giant 747.  

Nerome said she was "used to the great difference between noise in theory and what we hear."  

And Yves Galland, president of Boeing France, acknowledged Airbus' US rival had become "a bit sleepy" but warned that it "has woken up now".  

Earlier this week, Boeing stole a bit of Airbus' thunder by announcing two major orders for its own pet project, the fuel-efficient B787 passenger jet that should make its own maiden flight in about two years.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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