Giant of the skies makes maiden flight

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The Independent Online

Aviation history was made yesterday when the world's biggest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380, successfully completed its maiden flight.

Aviation history was made yesterday when the world's biggest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380, successfully completed its maiden flight.

F-WWOW took off from Toulouse international airport in south-west France at 10.29 local time and landed three hours and 54 minutes later at 14.23. As he stepped from the plane, the chief Airbus test pilot, Jacques Rosay, declared it was "like handling a bicycle".

A monster of a bicycle, that is. Weighing in at 560 tons, with a wing span of 80m and a length of 73m, the A380 is three-quarters of the size of a football pitch. In standard three-class configuration, it will seat 555 passengers but the aircraft has the capacity to carry up to 800. Yesterday, there was a crew of just six on board, accompanied by a ton of sophisticated electronics to measure every aspect of the performance.

The French cabinet interrupted its weekly meeting to break into applause as the A380 took off from Blagnac airfield. Afterwards, President Jacques Chirac issued a statement hailing the A380 as "a magnificent result for European industrial co-operation".

Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, struck a more parochial note, declaring that, had it not been for the UK's huge contribution to the plane (wings, engines and landing gear) the A380 "would have the airborne potential of a penguin".

Boeing, Airbus's rival, sought to rain on the parade in Toulouse, claiming the A380 would lose more than $8bn (£4.1bn) in the next 20 years.

Some of its launch customers, such as Virgin Atlantic, plan to put casinos on board and the A380 is nothing if not a gamble. It cost $12bn to build and Airbus needs to sell 300 just to break even. So far it has orders for 154.

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