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New delay hits superjumbo

Deliveries of the 555-seater Airbus A380 superjumbo plane, whose wings are built in the UK, are to be further delayed, it was announced today.

The new setback for the project - the world's largest passenger plane - was announced by Airbus's parent company EADS.

It follows an announcement earlier this year that only nine, rather than 25, of the giant planes will be delivered next year.

EADS said full details of the new delivery schedule would be released later.

But the further delays could affect the delivery time of the six A380s due to be delivered later this decade to Sir Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic.

Singapore Airlines is the first airline that will put the A380 into passenger service. The Far East carrier is due to take delivery of its first superjumbo at the end of this year and hopes to operate the first commercial flight in January.

The wings of the A380 are built by Airbus UK at its facility in Broughton, north Wales.

Problems with the wiring of the ultra-sophisticated A380 have caused the delays. The first delay announcement - in June this year - led to a management shake-up at Airbus.

Last week UK aerospace company BAE Systems, which is selling its 20% stake in Airbus, warned of further delays, and further speculation about delays forced EADS to make its announcement today.

The company said today: "EADS does not confirm nor deny specific information reported by various media relating to the A380 programme because the review of the programme is not completed yet.

"Although (the) company's assessment is still under way, continuing industrialisation challenges with the wiring of production aircraft have been identified and are being tackled.

"Consequently, from what is known today, there will be further delays. The current status is that we have not finalised the schedule of deliveries nor the financial impact of any delays.

"All appropriate resources are focused on bringing the ongoing assessment to maturity. EADS and Airbus will provide more detailed information within four weeks as Airbus is currently working on developing action plans and a solid delivery schedule to its customers. In the meantime flight testing milestones of the A380 are progressing as planned."

The A380 was first unveiled in January 2005 at a glittering ceremony at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, southern France, attended by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The plane first flew a few weeks later and its first non-commercial passenger flight was safely completed this summer.

Virgin is one of 16 airlines to have ordered A380s. Other carriers who will be buying the plane include Emirates, Qantas and Air France.