Aarati Krishnan

Toulouse, Jan. 18

THE A380, the largest commercial aircraft ever to be built, was unveiled here on Tuesday at the Airbus headquarters, at a glittering function attended by the four European Heads of State and chief executives of 14 leading airlines, representing A380's first customers.

Designed to seat 555 passengers in a double-decker format, the aircraft marks the European consortium's entry into the very large aircraft segment, which has hitherto been dominated by Boeing's 747 range. Measuring 73 metres in length, with a 80-m wingspan and standing as tall as a 8-storey building, airports around the world may have to upgrade their landing infrastructure to accommodate this new colossus from Airbus.

Airbus expects that the increasing concentration of traffic over the major trunk routes of the world will stimulate demand for big aircraft like the A380.

Airbus claims that the aircraft will help reduce traffic congestion at airports, optimise use of parking slots and reduce the environmental impact of flying by reducing aircraft movement.

At the same time, Airbus claims that it has used materials technology to deliver some compelling cost efficiencies for the aircraft, saying that the extra seats, coupled with better fuel efficiency could help airlines trim 15-20 per cent off the cost per seat mile flown on the A380.

The CEOS of A380's first customers, who attended the ceremony today, endorsed its cost efficiency on long-haul flights.

The CEO of Emirates - the biggest customer for the A380 - Mr Ahmed Bin Sayyed Al-Makhtoom, called the model the "future of air travel" and said that he expected large aircraft like the A380 to dominate the skies as airport infrastructure struggles to catch up with booming passenger traffic.

Global air traffic, he projected, was set to double in 14 years. His airline has placed an order for 45 A380s, which will be delivered from 2006 onwards.

However, not all customers have decided to add the aircraft to their fleet, for its cost considerations. "Though the A380 can carry up to 800 passengers we plan to carry only about 400. We will be using the (excess) space to give customers the flight experience of their dreams," says Mr Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin group.

His airline, he says, will use the extra space on the A380 to add gyms, bars, beauty parlours, double beds and even casinos, to provide a luxurious ambience for Virgin customers, which is like "no other airline."

`A great European success'

THE British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, the French President, Mr Jacques Chirac, the German Chancellor, Mr Gerhard Schroeder, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Mr Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who participated in the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday used this occasion to call for a further strengthening of European trade and industrial relations.

Calling the project a "great European success," Mr Chirac said that the launch of the A380 is owed to the Europe's cooperative industrial policy, which helped over two-lakh people work together on the project, conceived 35 years ago.

He expressed the hope that the European partnership, which contributed to the technological success of the A380, could be replicated in areas such as telecommunications.

Mr Blair said, "The A380 is a symbol that we in Europe can compete and win in the global markets and said that the project displayed the European cooperation working at its best."

He termed it a " triumph of European optimism and cooperation."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 19, 2005)
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