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Largest Passenger Jet Makes First Flight

By Erika Lorentzsen
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 28, 2005; Page E02

PARIS, April 27 -- Europe's Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger jet, completed its inaugural flight Wednesday, landing with tons of test equipment on the same runway near Toulouse where the supersonic Concorde also had its maiden flight in 1969.

Airbus SAS chief executive Noel Forgeard expressed pride in what he described as the plane's flawless performance, as the A380 took off on time at 10:29 a.m. (4:29 a.m. EDT) in remarkably good weather.

The Airbus A380 takes off at a Toulouse, France, airport with six crew members on board. The company has 154 orders for the large passenger jet. (Airbus)

In front of about 30,000 onlookers, the double-decked white and blue jet, dubbed a "super-jumbo," lifted its 22 wheels off the ground and took to the air after reaching a takeoff speed of 150 knots at the Blagnac airport.

An hour into the flight, the chief test pilot, Jacques Rosay, reported that the "takeoff was absolutely perfect" and that the massive plane "handled like a bicycle." As he and the other members of the A380's six-person crew approached the Pyrenees mountains at an altitude of 10,000 feet, Rosay said, "This aircraft is very, very easy to fly. Any Airbus pilot will feel immediately at ease."

The pilots in the A380 cockpit were made available to reporters by radio and were shown on two gigantic TV screens in the center of Toulouse.

The A380 was designed for about 555 passengers, although it could hold as many as 800 seats. Yet the maiden flight carried no passengers -- only the flight crew of Rosay, copilot Claude Lelaie, who is senior vice president of the flight division at Airbus, and four other crew members clad in orange jumpsuits. All wore parachutes, in accordance with Airbus safety regulations, said spokeswoman Barbara Kracht.

Airbus plans to conduct further tests on the plane within the next few months, with pilots simulating worst-case scenarios in the A380's engine or computer systems.

Since development began more than a decade ago, at least $13 billion has been spent on the A380. Airbus is gambling that the A380 can pull market share away from its chief U.S. rival, Boeing Co.

So far, Airbus has sold 154 A380s, but the European company remains short of the 200 orders it needs to break even on the project. The planes cost around $282 million each. Many of the planes have been sold to shipping companies as freight carriers and to airlines for use at major passenger hubs in Asia.

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