Giant Airbus lifts off on maiden flight

27th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

TOULOUSE, France, April 27 (AFP) - The Airbus A380, the world's biggest airliner, took quietly to the skies on Wednesday on a maiden flight that opened a new era in aviation history.

TOULOUSE, France, April 27 (AFP) - The Airbus A380, the world's biggest airliner, took quietly to the skies on Wednesday on a maiden flight that opened a new era in aviation history.  

Thousands of spectators cheered as the new A380 double-decker took off from the Toulouse-Blagnac airport in south-western France under clear, sunny skies.  

The plane's 22 wheels glided down runway 22, dubbed the Concorde, where the world's only supersonic jetliner first took off in 1969, across from a 500-place press stand and banks of television cameras.  

The plane lifted off the ground for the first time at 10:29 am, Airbus said, preceded by a small "chase" plane that scouted conditions for the six-man crew aboard the A380.  

The superjumbo headed northwest, turning its back on the south-western city of Toulouse and its 700,000 inhabitants, as required for a test flight.  

The takeoff was markedly quieter than the others heard at the airport Wednesday morning, despite the immensity of the behemoth.  

In a momentous gamble for Airbus Industrie, the European aircraft maker that has punched its way to the top of the civil aircraft industry, the new plane challenges the Boeing 747's long dominance of the jumbo jet market.  

At takeoff, the prototype plane weighed 421 tonnes, the heaviest civil airliner to date, the company said. Its maximum take-off weight is 560 tonnes.  

The inaugural flight, over southwestern France, was expected to last four hours, Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard said in a news conference.  

Forgeard expressed "pride" in the successful, punctual and relatively silent lift-off.  

"The A380 is extremely quiet, that is one of our most ambitious goals. It is three decibels below the competition and I am thrilled that officials at the Los Angeles airport here can attest to that."  

Forgeard also noted the takeoff was "eight seconds exactly" from the scheduled 10:30 am takeoff.  

The company baptized its 21st flagship the A380 for two reasons: the number "eight" suggests the double-decker feature and also is considered a lucky number in Asia, where Airbus sees its fortunes growing the most.  

The CEO cautioned, however, that today's historic flight was "only the beginning" of months of tests and certifications before the plane enters commercial service, planned in 2006.  

The A380 programme "will be, because we have a lot to do, a fantastic cooperative effort. It is a fantastic spirit between the people," he added.  

The plane, which made its official debut at an Airbus hangar in January, is to be used for decades as the test model for changes to the A380 model over the duration of the program.  

The company had announced the much-anticipated maiden flight date Monday, after several delays.  

It is a long-haul, four-engine superjumbo that can carry between 550 and 840 passengers and fly 8,000 miles (15,000 kilometers) non-stop.  

The white double-decker, sporting the new Airbus trademark blues on its tail, sailed into clear, sunny skies, seemingly picture-perfect conditions for the maiden voyage.  

The head of the Airbus flight division, Claude Lelaie, piloting the superjumbo with chief test pilot Jacques Rosay, and four engineers, clad in orange flight suits, had boarded the plane at 8:40 am.  

The Number One prototype plane is strictly a test aircraft, equipped with about 20 tonnes of equipment, including work stations to monitor in-flight data and other parameters.  

A live satellite feed of onboard data was being tracked by a team of experts on the ground, with particular attention paid to flight commands and structural stresses.  

The Airbus shareholders, parent company EADS, with an 80 percent holding, and BAE Systems of Britain, with 20 percent, have already invested heavily in the programme: more than EUR 10 billion (USD 13 billion), and another EUR 1.45 billion may be needed.  

The big plane has been a big draw: 15 airlines have already signed contracts for 154 planes, of which 144 are firm. The tally comes close to Airbus's forecasts of selling 150 planes by mid-2005.  

The order book is massive - the catalogue price of an A380 is between USD 260 million and USD 290 million. Singapore Airlines was the first to order, while the US and Japanese airlines have proven more difficult to lure.  

The spectators had converged on the airport early in the morning, some setting up camping sites for a full day of A380 watching. Some 50,000 officials, spectators and media had been expected to gather for the event.  

Security was tight on the ground and in the air. Two huge parking areas around the airport, enough to accommodate 15,000 cars, were opened and police blocked traffic on nearby roads to allow spectators to approach on foot.  

Normal commercial air traffic resumed after the A380 lift-off, with the airspace patrolled to intercept any suspicious planes, officials said.



Subject: French News

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