Chirac says Airbus is blueprint for co-operation

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The French president Jacques Chirac called on Britain and the rest of Europe yesterday to use the aircraft manufacturer Airbus as a model for future industrial co-operation in sectors ranging from energy and transport to telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

The French president Jacques Chirac called on Britain and the rest of Europe yesterday to use the aircraft manufacturer Airbus as a model for future industrial co-operation in sectors ranging from energy and transport to telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

Speaking at the official unveiling of the A380 super-jumbo, the world's biggest passenger aircraft, at a spectacular ceremony in south-west France attended by Tony Blair and the heads of Germany and Spain, M. Chirac urged his fellow leaders to pursue the success of Airbus in other fields.

M. Chirac and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder were noticeably warmer to one another than to Mr Blair, greeting each other as "dear friends" and emphasising their view that the four-nation Airbus programme had only been a success because it had combined technical expertise with social responsibility.

The A380, which will seat up to 800 passengers, has been 12 years in the planning, four years in construction and is costing £5.6bn. Everything about the A380 commands a superlative. It will be the largest, longest, heaviest and most expensive aircraft ever seen when it enters service in the middle of next year with Singapore Airlines. But its development also represents the biggest gamble ever taken in commercial aviation, overshadowing even the birth of Concorde.

Fittingly, the A380 unveiling inside the giant Jean-Luc Lagardere assembly hall at Airbus's Toulouse headquarters was preceded by the most ambitious and extravagant floor show ever attempted at an aircraft launch. The 45-minute extravaganza - featuring high- wire trapeze artists and a holographic light show - cost an estimated €2m.

The double-decker A380 will typically seat 555 passengers in a three-class configuration and will fly 8,000 miles non-stop, enabling it to reach Los Angeles and Singapore from London. Each plane will cost $260m but Airbus has promised customers it will be 15-20 per cent cheaper to operate than the existing Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

Most launch customers are keeping plans for the interiors of their A380s a closely guarded secret. But Sir Richard Branson disclosed that Virgin Atlantic, which has ordered six, will fit them out with a gym, bar area, beauty parlour, casino and suite of 35 double beds. "That means you will have at least two ways of getting lucky on a Virgin Atlantic flight," he said.

Sir Richard also revealed that Airbus had agreed to compensate Virgin if its A380s were not at least 24 per cent more cost efficient than its current Boeing 747-400 jets.

Airbus has received £2.5bn in launch aid for the A380 from the taxpayers of Britain, France, Germany and Spain. So far it has 149 firm orders but it must deliver 250 to break even on the programme and 700 to repay the state aid. The four-nation manufacturer recently admitted development costs might be $1.5bn higher than originally forecast.

But Mr Blair said that the jet, which has been backed with £530m from the UK taxpayer, would "repay itself handsomely in the years to come".

Airbus puts the market for the A380 at 1,600 jets - split into 1,250 passenger aircraft and 350 freighter versions. But Boeing believes the future lies in smaller long-haul aircraft flying point-to-point such as its new 7E7 Dreamliner. John Leahy, the executive commercial director of Airbus, said Boeing was "digging themselves into a very big hole" the longer it maintained there was not a sufficient market for a 500-plus seat aircraft.

Comments