Video: Jumbo test

updated 5/18/2006 7:59:31 PM ET 2006-05-18T23:59:31

The world’s biggest passenger airliner landed at Europe’s busiest airport Thursday to test whether London’s Heathrow was ready for the Airbus A380.

Two British flags hung from the plane’s cockpit windows as the superjumbo jet taxied toward a specially designed pier at the airport in west London. A phalanx of media, corporate guests, and curious plane-spotters gathered at Heathrow for the aircraft’s arrival.

“This is a great day for London, a great day for Britain, a great day for British manufacturing and a great day for European cooperation,” Treasury chief Gordon Brown said after the jet touched down.

He then inspected the craft.

En route from the Berlin Air Show — where Airbus was showcasing the double-decker this week — the plane flew over the Airbus plant in north Wales, where the carrier’s huge wings are made.

“Although everyone else is looking up, I get to look down and it was amazing to see so many faces looking up at me,” test pilot Ed Strongman said of flying over the two facilities.

The A380 will stay at Heathrow for airport-compatibility tests before returning to Berlin early Friday. BAA Heathrow managing director Tony Douglas said BAA and Airbus staff also would conduct a series of tests, including crowd handling, during the aircraft’s brief stay.

Heathrow operator BAA is spending some $850 million to upgrade the airport to accommodate the A380 and other anticipated ultra-large aircraft of the future. Other work has included runway resurfacing, upgrading runway lighting and the construction of new taxiways.

Douglas said the airport has widened and strengthened a runway to accommodate the A380, which has a list price of $300 million. New, larger baggage carousels also have been installed at Terminal 3 to accommodate the 555 passengers that can travel on the aircraft.

Toulouse, France-based Airbus has so far taken 159 firm orders from 16 airlines and freight companies for the A380, with dozens more on option. Airbus Chief Operating Officer Charles Champion said there are no remaining delivery slots before 2011.

Singapore Airlines Ltd. will be the first carrier to put the plane into passenger service by the end of the year — already six months behind its original schedule. The airline said Thursday it expected to take delivery of its first A380 in November and plans for the plane to enter commercial service in December.

Champion, however, declined to commit firmly to that timetable.

“The target of Singapore Airlines is to receive it in November, and our target is to fulfill that request but our situation is that we intend to deliver by the end of the year,” he said.

The A380 will overtake Boeing Co.’s 747 as the world’s largest commercial jet when it enters service. Boeing announced late last year that it is launching the 747-8, a more fuel-efficient version of its double-decker plane, to compete with the A380.

Other airlines that have ordered A380s include Sir Richard Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Dubai-based Emirates.

But a number of major carriers, including British Airways, have held back from committing themselves, preferring to see how the plane performs.

Airbus, majority owned by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., announced in April that the A380 had passed its emergency evacuation tests by the European Aviation and Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, an important step toward the superjumbo’s official certification for commercial flights.

Earlier this year, a wing ruptured during ground tests. The company said the wings might need refinements at certain points as a result of the fracture, but any changes would not delay the delivery time.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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