Aboard The Airbus A380 (AFP) Oct 25, 2007
Loaded with champagne, caviar and excited passengers from around the world, the biggest airliner ever built touched down in Australia on Thursday after its first commercial flight.
The Airbus A380 superjumbo, a gigantic double-decker, flew from Singapore to Sydney and into aviation history, making its maiden passenger voyage after months of delays and billions of dollars in cost over-runs.
Enthusiasts hailed the "textbook landing" as the Sydney control tower guided the aircraft they referred to as "the big fella" to a massive airbridge so the 455 passengers could disembark.
Travellers on the Singapore Airlines flight bought their seats in an online charity auction, with one Briton paying more than 100,000 dollars to be among the first to fly the largest passenger plane ever constructed.
"It's like a party on board," said top-bidder Julian Hayward, who confessed to being "pampered and spoiled" in his super-premium seat as flight attendants plied the debut passengers with champagne and caviar.
Singapore Airlines, the launch customer, offered champagne brunch for all aboard as giddy passengers snapped photos, watched by invited journalists who were to give the airline a great first-day publicity boost.
"We are indeed honoured to have you grace the first commercial flight today," Captain Robert Ting said as flight attendants strolled the aisles, handing out hot towels. "Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight."
The giant plane, so large that 72 cars could fit on each of its wings, can carry up to 853 passengers -- but Singapore Airlines (SIA) has opted instead for a more luxurious set-up with a maximum of 471 seats.
Those include 12 "Suites" which have been at the centre of SIA's marketing campaign -- compartments featuring a full-length bed behind sliding doors, sheets by French design house Givenchy and flat-screen televisions.
For Thursday's inaugural flight, suites passengers were offered Dom Perignon Rose 1996, caviar and a menu including duck breast and black cod prepared by two chefs on board.
But the mid-air celebration came after a bumpy take-off for Airbus, which was 18 months late in delivering the plane to SIA and suffered an estimated six billion dollars in cost over-runs.
The delay embarrassed the European manufacturer, a bitter rival of US firm Boeing, and some analysts have warned that the gigantic aircraft is a "white elephant".
But others insist the giant plane will revolutionise the industry.
"This is indeed a new milestone in the timeline of aviation," SIA chief executive officer Chew Choon Seng said in a send-off speech at Changi Airport. "We are on the cusp of history-making."
The plane departed at 0016 GMT from Changi Airport. It arrived in Australia on schedule at 0723 GMT after a seven hour seven minute flight, although overcast weather in Sydney ruined the passengers' views of the city.
After Thursday's inaugural flight, regular service to Sydney is to begin on Sunday.
Superjumbo service on the Singapore-London route will start in February, and Japan could come later, according to SIA executives.
Rival Boeing has put its energies into developing a midsized airplane, the 787 Dreamliner, which has secured at least 710 orders.
In contrast, Airbus has 180 firm orders and commitments to buy the superjumbo.
Dubai-based Emirates has ordered 55 A380s, making it the leading client on a list of predominantly Asian, European and Gulf-based customers. Qantas will get the A380 next year.
earlier related report
Ling was one of the 455 people on the maiden flight of the Airbus superjumbo -- a trip more about caviar than commuting, as giddy passengers turned a long-haul flight into an airborne party.
Some of the passengers were even still standing when the giant double-decker sped down the runway in Singapore and took off into aviation history, drawing a huge round of applause from nearly everyone aboard.
William Leong, whose 91-year-old father was the oldest person on board, said he had paid 55,000 US dollars in an online auction to take his family of eight on the historic flight.
"Every penny is worth it," he told AFP.
He and his father were travelling in one of the 12 suites that Singapore Airlines (SIA) has installed on the A380 -- a kind of super-class of private compartments that include full-length beds.
"It's a real bed and you really sink into it," said Julian Hayward, who got pride of place in Suite 1A for being the top bidder, paying more than 100,000 US dollars to be on the flight.
For those in the suites -- an ultra-luxury touch that SIA hopes will distinguish its version of the superjumbo -- it was as far away from the cramped and crowded experience of budget travel as they could get.
Flight attendants in figure-hugging uniforms poured endless glasses of wine and Dom Perignon champagne. When it was time to dine, seared yellow fin tuna and lobster tail appeared as starters.
Two chefs on board the biggest passenger plane ever built prepared sauteed foie gras, scampi and prawn ravioli, pan-roasted duck and steamed black cod for mains.
Excited travellers snapped photos of the cabin crew and each other, wanting to record the moment as they became the first to fly the biggest passenger plane plying the skies.
Despite the gourmet nosh and the sense of history, though, what seemed to dazzle most of all was how quiet the mammoth plane was.
"I was impressed," said Thomas Lee of California, who was invited by Singapore Airlines as a special guest because he was also on the maiden flight of the Boeing 747 nearly four decades ago. "The 747 was a lot louder."
"The engine is so quiet," said James O'Neill of England.
Passengers received certificates to commemorate their journey. And on a day when the skies were clear, the enormous plane -- big enough to fit 72 cars on each wing -- glided through the air with hardly a bump.
"We are indeed honoured to have you grace the first commercial flight today," Captain Robert Ting said. "Sit back, relax and enjoy."
Aerospace News at SpaceMart.com
Airbus superjumbo takes off on first commercial flight
Aboard The Airbus A380 (AFP) Oct 25, 2007
After long delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the Airbus superjumbo -- the biggest airliner ever built -- took off on Thursday for its first commercial flight.
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