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Airbus Flight Shows Off Troubled A380

The superjumbo used for Wednesday's flight boasted a bar on each of the decks _ linked by two large staircases, making it easy to roam around.

Noise was noticeably subdued, even during takeoff at full thrust, when the engine roar outside could have passed for a neighbor mowing the grass half a block away.

The Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines are the quietest now available and, thanks to a wingspan 24 percent longer than the 747s, they are further than usual from the cabin _ where advances in soundproofing and air conditioning technologies also contribute to the sense of calm. Outside, Airbus claims that the A380's "noise footprint" is half the size of that of rival Boeing.

Just as a larger boat gives a smoother ride across choppy seas, turbulence is felt less violently aboard the A380.

"Where on a smaller airplane you would be shaken, in this airplane everything is really quite smooth," said Fernando Alonso, vice president of the Airbus flight test division.

The superjumbo may turn heads, but whether it can turn a profit remains to be seen. Analysts estimate the program's total cost has reached as much as 15 billion euros ($19.5 billion).

Harald Liberge of CM-CIC Securities is skeptical about the 420-plane break-even point previously projected by Airbus _ particularly in light of the compensation talks still under way over much of the current A380 order book. Airbus Chief Operating Officer Mario Heinen declined to give a revised program cost or confirm the break-even figure.

The drain on resources has also set Airbus back in the more lucrative market for midsized jets, where Boeing's long-range, fuel-efficient 787 has been a runaway success. Airbus launched its response, the A350 XWB, just three months ago for 2013 entry into service _ five years after its main rival.

The A380 may be an "engineer-driven" program that "will not make a penny for the next 10 years," Liberge said _ but that does not mean it will not be a commercial success for decades after that.

"Like the 747, it should be operating for the next 40 years," Liberge said. "The demand is definitely there _ this isn't another Concorde."


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