Airbus SAS, the world’s biggest planemaker, took 200 journalists for a flight over the Pyrenees in the new superjumbo A380, allowing them to wander between the two decks of the aircraft certified to fly as many as 873 people.
The plane, which will carry about 555 passengers when it enters service later this year, took off today from Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, France for the two-hour journey above southern France.
“From a human point of view, to put 500 or 600 people together all in one group would give a terrible feeling,” said Juergen Weber, the 69-year-old German who headed the A380 design team beginning in 1996. “So we separated it into two cabins, which is very much like having two aircraft, with 250 to 300 seats.”
Airbus has orders for 166 of the planes from 15 customers including Singapore Airlines Ltd., Emirates, Air France-KLM Group, China Southern, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Qantas Airways. The A380 has cost Airbus and parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. approximately $19 billion so far, including development and additional costs associated with delays of at least two years.
The aircraft, which will top Boeing Co.’s 747 as the world’s biggest passenger plane, has a wingspan of 262 feet (80 meters). The fuselage is 239 feet long. It’s almost 80 feet from the ground to the top of its tail. Takeoff weight when fully loaded is 1.2 million pounds.
The plane chosen for the journalists’ flight had two bars, though none of the beauty parlors, gambling casinos, duty-free shops and other amenities touted by Airbus in early promotional material. It does have a medical area in the rear, with a pull-out stretcher and privacy partition.
“If you like this interior, which is a standard manufacturer’s interior, you’ll love it once you see what the airlines are doing,” John Leahy, Airbus’s chief commercial officer and top salesman, said in an interview aboard the flight.
“Quite a few” of the A380 customers will offer bars and gathering places and “more than one” airline has installed showers, he said, declining to give more specifics.
The plane wasn’t equipped yet with a passenger entertainment system. Airbus has cited the complexity of installing the wiring for those systems as a key reason for construction delays and disruptions. The plane used for the journalists’ flight was the seventh of the A380s under construction and will be delivered to Etihad Airways in 2009 after the cabin is customized.
Airbus’s difficulties in producing the plane have already lost it one customer, FedEx Corp., which in November dropped an order for 10 cargo planes and took Boeing aircraft instead. United Parcel Service Inc. is still evaluating its own order for 10 freighters, the company said earlier this week.