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Airbus rolls out A380

Fanfare of trumpets for world's biggest passenger airliner

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Airbus this morning rolled out its twin deck, 555-seat A380 superjumbo at a celeb-packed ceremony in Toulouse.

Politicians including Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac queued up to praise the €11bn project: the latter hailed it as the "crowning achievement of a human and industrial adventure" while the former confirmed the A380 as "the most exciting new aircraft in the world, a symbol of economic strength and technical innovation".

The Airbus A380

The A380 has already attracted orders from 11 airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic included. Totals orders are reported as 149 aircraft, well on the way to the 250 unit break-even figure estimated by Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard.

It is not all, however, clear blue skies for the A380 project. Earlier this year, Virgin announced that it was postponing delivery of its first A380 until 2007, due to "delays in airports - particularly that of Los Angeles (LAX) - preparing to receive the enormous aircraft". The company also reported difficulties in obtaining kit to customise the behemoth's interior.

Unsuprisingly, the A380's budget has attracted some concern, notably in the area of government "launch aid loans" without which pundits speculate the aircraft would never have got off the ground.

For its part, Airbus is playing it cool on the matter of a possible €1.5bn overspend. Airbus commercial director John Leahy told the BBC: "That sounds quite a lot of money until you realise you are dealing with a programme which is about €11bn."

Rival Boeing, meanwhile, is directing its energies into smaller aircraft, notably the 7E7 Dreamliner (Flash site) - already ordered by Continental, Japan and Vietnam Airlines.

The A380 will make its first flight in April. Deliveries of the aircraft begin in 2006. ®

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