Cleared to land: world's biggest airliner arrives in UK

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The Independent Online

It will arrive in Britain for a series of final tests ahead of its first commercial flight later this year.

For those with cash to spend, the A380 will offer unrivalled luxury at 37,000ft: bars, casinos, even a gym has been mooted. Virgin Atlantic, which has ordered six planes, is planning to instal private double bedrooms.

But not everyone will be lucky enough to enjoy such a comfortable journey. The cheap seats will be squeezed in 10 to the row, and there has even been talk of standing places.

Airbus claims the A380 will carry 555 passengers in its standard mix of economy, business and first class. Economy-only flights will pack in around 850.

The arrival of the A380 is the result of 18 years of planning between British, French, German and Spanish companies. Its wings are built in Broughton, North Wales, and the aeroplane's engines are made by Rolls-Royce. Parts were assembled at a giant factory in Toulouse, France. The French President, Jacques Chirac, called it a "magnificent result for European industrial co-operation".

But the project has been beset with difficulties. In December 2004 it was revealed that it was £1bn over budget and production has been dogged by delays on numerous occasions. And the sheer size of the A380 has forced major airports to undergo building work to ensure the plane can be accommodated. Heathrow is spending £450m on redevelopments, including a three-storey development 280m long that will allow passengers to get on and off the double-decker super-jumbo.

The plane's size will prevent it landing at many of the world's largest airports, such as Atlanta in the US, that have decided not to upgrade. Nevertheless, Heathrow estimates that by 2016 the A380 will carry one in eight passengers flying from the airport.

The first commercial flight is scheduled to take place later this year from Heathrow. Singapore Airlines will carry the inaugural flight to Sydney, via Singapore, in the autumn.