Airbus Delivers First A380 Superjumbo

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TOULOUSE, France - Airbus finally delivered its first A380 superjumbo jet Monday as the European planemaker tries to rebound from a string of legal and technical troubles.

Singapore Airlines took delivery of the double-decker jet, the world's largest passenger plane, almost two years late.

"Until now, the A380 has been Airbus' baby. Today we are here to celebrate this beautiful mature aircraft coming of age," said Airbus President Thomas Enders at a handover ceremony that included a sound and light show.

Acknowledging the planemaker's difficulties, he told Airbus employees: "I realize how unsettling these last times, particularly the last 18 months, have been."

He thanked customers for sticking with the aircraft and said that increasing production to meet demand for the A380 "remains our greatest challenge for the next few years."

Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Chew Choon Seng said it was "well worth the wait."

Airbus has gone though five CEOs as multiple delays in the A380 program resulted in massive write-offs and a restructuring plan that foresees 10,000 job cuts over four years - not to mention billions of dollars in lost profit.

Such delays have hurt more than just profits: Airbus' reputation has suffered, and U.S. rival Boeing Co. grabbed the top sales spot in 2006. Boeing last week announced a six-month delay to its hot-selling 787 Dreamliner.

Morale has also fallen at Airbus on accusations, and an investigation, into the possible sale of company share options by senior managers who knew about serious problems with the A380 before the public was made aware. A preliminary report by the French Financial Markets Authority pointed to "massive insider trading" at European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co, Airbus' parent company.

The celebration Monday, attended by around 500 guests, was low key compared with the triumphal 2005 ceremony when the A380 was unveiled. The 10,000-strong audience then included leaders from France, Germany and Britain who were not allowed inside the plane where problems lurked.

Government officials, some under scrutiny in the insider trading probe, were absent Monday.

Speaking earlier to Germany's ARD television, Enders dismissed suggestions that Airbus was pursuing the wrong strategy by producing the superjumbo because many believe carriers will by buying smaller planes in the future.

"It isn't 'either-or,' it is both," Enders said. "We also have aircraft for the long, thin routes - our 330 and 340, and in the future the 350. So we are not putting everything on the 380, but we are convinced that, above all in certain regions, the growth in air traffic can only be mastered with aircraft like the 380."

The A380 represents Airbus' bet on future demand for long-haul travel between congested hub airports worldwide. Rival Boeing believes passengers want point-to-point trips between smaller airports and is targeting that market with midsized jets.

The A380's inaugural commercial flight has been set for Oct. 25 from Singapore to Sydney.

Chew said Singapore was inconvenienced by the late delivery, but added, "We are glad that Airbus took the time to make sure that the plane is fully tested and developed before it enters commercial service."

John Leahy, Airbus' chief salesman, suggested that the A380's problems will be over once the plane gets into commercial service.

"When this airplane is out flying, my marketing job will get a lot easier," he told The Associated Press in an interview last week.

Airbus has logged 189 orders or firm commitments for the plane, and Leahy says that number may exceed 200 by year's end.

The A380 features cocktail bar complete with a water fountain and a duty-free lounge. Some airlines will offer passengers in-flight showers.

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On the Net:

http://www.airbus.com


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