updated 10/15/2007 9:10:45 PM ET 2007-10-16T01:10:45

Nearly two years late, Airbus finally delivered its first A380 superjumbo on Monday, a revolutionary behemoth that includes luxury suites equipped with comfy double beds.

Customer Singapore Airlines says the passenger jet, the world’s largest, was worth the wait, and the delivery marks a badly needed morale-boosting milestone for Airbus.

Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Chew Choon Seng said his airline 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.”

For Airbus, big challenges with the problem-ridden plane still lie ahead — not least producing enough of them.

“Increasing A380 production to meet demand remains our greatest challenge for the next years,” Chief Executive Thomas Enders said at a handover ceremony at Airbus’ headquarters in Toulouse, southwestern France.

After delivering the first four superjumbos to Singapore Airlines, Airbus will have to redesign cabins and electrical layouts for Emirates Airlines and Qantas. It is committed to handing over 13 planes in 2008, 25 in 2009, and 45 in 2010.

Asked if he was confident that Airbus is up to the challenge, Enders said: “We have every confidence we can deliver, but what is guaranteed in life?”

Lack of a sure-thing might not go down well with Airbus’ 16 customers for the A380, whose patience has already been stretched, nor with potential converts. With 189 orders or firm commitments, Airbus is hoping to see 200 on its books by year-end.

Meanwhile, it looks like Airbus is having problems with its next big project — the A400M military cargo plane.

Video: Mega-jumbo delivered

Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice-president for programs, said difficulties with the engine could push the first flight of the turbo-prop back six months. If the European planemaker is late delivering, “clearly it’s not going to be cheap,” he told journalists.

U.S. rival Boeing Co. is late too, announcing a six-month delay last week to its hot-selling 787 Dreamliner. But the Chicago-based planemaker still has a five-year lead over Airbus for its competing midsize jet, the A350 XWB, which has been set back by multiple redesigns.

Airbus has already been hit with penalties for late delivery of the A380, which combined with spiraling development costs wiped billions of dollars off profits. Enders refused Monday to divulge the extent of the losses.

The European planemaker has gone though five CEOs in two years and is now in the midst of a restructuring plan that foresees 10,000 job cuts over four years.

Morale at Airbus has also been hurt by accusations that senior managers took advantage of knowledge about the A380’s problems to cash in on share options. A preliminary report by the French Financial Markets Authority pointed to “massive insider trading” at European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., Airbus’ parent company.

Enders said Airbus was moving past the problems that dogged the aircraft. “We underestimated the complexity of this plane. Since then we have taken efforts to recover.”

Gesturing to the clear skies and unseasonably hot weather outside, he said that some things at least were working out in Airbus’ favor.

Attended by around 500 guests, the handover ceremony was more low-key than the triumphal 2005 ceremony when the A380 was unveiled. Then, the 10,000-strong audience included French, German and British leaders who admired the plane’s exterior but were not allowed inside, where problems lurked.

Government officials, some of whom have come under the spotlight in the insider trading probe, were absent from Monday’s event.

Of all the glitzy new features of the Singapore Airlines superjumbo, the one that drew gasps from a VIP crowd of air industry executives was relatively low-tech: the double bed.

The sight of the petal-strewn mattress furnished with duvets and cushions by French fashion house Givenchy impressed Enders so much, he told The Associated Press, that he’d like to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary on one — with his wife Friederike.

Singapore Airlines fitted its jet with 471 seats configured in three classes: 399 economy class seats on both decks, 60 business class seats on the upper deck and 12 luxury suites on the main deck.

A standard return fare for a suite, created by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, will cost around 10,500 Singapore dollars ($7,160) on the inaugural Singapore-Sydney route, Chew told the AP. That’s about 20-35 percent more than the current top-class fare.

Each suite comes with sliding doors and self-adjustable roller blinds for privacy — with only a small fabric screen at the bottom to allow cabin crew to check on passengers.

Each plane will have two double beds, though Chew said he doesn’t want the suites to give anyone racy ideas.

“I would not encourage it for use for anything other than resting and sleeping,” he told the AP.

For the business traveler the suite can be transformed into an office, and entertainment is provided on a 23-inch television screen.

Celebrity chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Georges Blanc have advised on the menu, served on fine bone chinaware also designed by Givenchy.

The innovations aren’t reserved just for premium customers. All classes offer an in-flight entertainment system that offers language courses and office software, besides regular movies and television channels. There is more leg room too, even in economy.

Showers won’t be available on Singapore Airlines flights, though Airbus’ top salesman, John Leahy, said some other customers are having their planes equipped with them.

The A380’s inaugural commercial flight is set for Oct. 25 from Singapore to Sydney. Singapore Airlines has auctioned all seats on the first flight on eBay, raising about $1.25 million for charity.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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