- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

2:14 p.m.

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The world’s largest airliner made its Washington debut late last night when the long-awaited and occasionally troubled Airbus A380 “superjumbo” touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport on the last stop of a weeklong U.S. promotional and testing tour.

Not since the retired Concorde supersonic jetliner first touched down in the U.S. in 1969 has a new airliner been so eagerly anticipated within the industry and by the public.

“It’s kind of like a rock star — everybody wants to see it and have a piece of it,” Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said of the A380.

The double-decker aircraft made its initial U.S. appearance March 19 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. After that, Europe’s Airbus, in partnership with the German airline Lufthansa, took the A380 on demonstration flights to Chicago, Los Angeles and Hong Kong before returning to Germany. The plane then flew yesterday to Dulles from Frankfurt with more than 500 passengers — mostly Airbus and Lufthansa employees.

The media today was treated to a pre-dawn tour of the massive jetliner, which was parked on the Dulles tarmac next to a United Airline’s Boeing 747 — previously the world’s largest airliner.

The plane is scheduled for in-flight tests this afternoon before returning to Germany later today.

The plane could carry more than 800 passengers in an all-coach seating configuration, although most airlines are expected to have large first- and business-class seating that would cap the number of passengers at about 550.

Singapore Airlines, which has ordered 19 of the planes, is scheduled to be the first airline to use the A380 for commercial flights, in the fall.

Management and financial troubles at Airbus have delayed production of the A380 by two years, erasing more than $6.6 billion off profit forecasts.

The delay caused one of Airbus’ biggest potential customers, UPS, to cancel an order for 10 A380 freighters earlier this month.

Airbus officials hope this month’s U.S. appearances of the plane will help boost investor and public confidence.

“This is the thing we’ve always looked forward to — it’s really doggone exciting to have this airplane come to town,” Mr. McConnell said.

The A380, powered by four Rolls-Royce engines, burns about 1 gallon of gas per passenger every 80 miles and can fly about 8,000 nautical miles.

Airbus says it has more than 150 firm orders from 14 customers. Emirates Airlines, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has ordered the most planes — 43.

The A380, with a maximum takeoff weight of 617 tons, is the largest civil aircraft ever built. The aircraft’s two passenger decks have a total area of 5,920-square feet — 50 percent more space than the Boeing 747-400.

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