Airbus seeks to curtail safety tests on giant jet because of the dangers

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The Independent Online

Airbus is planning to launch the world's biggest passenger airliner without running internationally recognised evacuation tests because it fears they are too dangerous and could lead to serious injuries.

The Independent has learnt that Airbus wants instead to do partial, simulated exercises on its giant A380 jet, which will carry almost 1,000 people. About 200 are likely to be on the upper deck and will drop 30ft to the ground in an emergency.

The company is concerned that a full-scale evacuation test could lead to panic and casualties. But the decision will allow its biggest commercial rival, Boeing, to claim that the plane's safety is unproven.

The A380 has been long heralded by Airbus and has gained widespread publicity. The multinational consortium has invested £7.5bn and much of its prestige and credibility in the project. BAE Systems, which owns 20 per cent of the company, has the hugely valuable contract to build the wings.

Airbus is involved in a fierce struggle with Boeing for domination of the world aircraft making business. At a press conference yesterday at Le Bourget in Paris, Noel Forgeard, the Airbus vice-chairman, spent most of his time attacking the company's American rival.

The A380 will dwarf Boeing's 747, at present the world's biggest passenger plane, which carries more than 400 passengers. Even the basic A380 will have a greater capacity, with the top-of-the-range capable of reaching the figure of nearly 1,000. Boeing did a full evacuation of the 747 before launch. But Derek Davies, Airbus's marketing director for the A380, stressed the hazards presented by more passengers. He said: "This is a very sensitive topic [but] if you put 860 people through a real evacuation test some will come off the slide at the bottom and others will land on them.

"When a group of people are trying to get out of somewhere, there is an elemental momentum. There is the danger of serious injuries.

"Questions will be asked of us, why should we put people in a situation where they may become paraplegic?

"The A380 has very good chance of beating the flagship of the number one aircraft company in the US. We feel Boeing might find out about any injuries and publicise the results for their own gain. Boeing may also capitalise on us not carrying out full evacuations. But the simulated tests we are considering would be extremely carefully done and highly accurate."

The A380 will come into production in 2006. The company's safety experts have been studying various forms of partial testing, and talks have been held with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Civil Aviation Authority.Airbus believes the organisations will understand its position.