2005-01-20 12:56:08 UTC
aircraft, a plane that promises to revolutionise air travel and help
contribute to a doubling or perhaps even trebling of the number of people
flying over the next two decades. The historic moment was marked with a
rather grand ceremony at Airbus headquarters near Toulouse.
It was reminiscent of opening ceremonies for Olympic Games, complete with
dancers resembling angels, floating through blue smoke clouds; towering over
them a tall, god-like figure, exhorting the audience to "remind yourself
that everything is possible".
And then there were the four dancers representing the four European nations
that are backing the A380 project, each of them displaying the names of some
of their greatest creative minds: Einstein, Goethe, Goya, Gaudi, Victor
Hugo, Shakespeare and the Beatles.
But this was more than just brilliance by association: "It is a truly
magnificent human endeavour," declared France's President Jacques Chirac.
With an 80-metre wing span, the A380 is the largest civilian aircraft ever
built. "Now we see this final product and we are amazed," said UK Prime
Minister Tony Blair. "It is simply stunning."
For Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard it was a moment to behold, and not
to be modest: "Under the name Airbus, Europe has written one of its most
beautiful pages of its history."
High-level corporate battles - fought both internally among Airbus
executives vying for position and externally against competitor Boeing -
would have to wait for another day.
And yet, the trade spat between the European Union and the United States did
rear its ugly head.
The US insists the repayable launch aid stumped up by Airbus's four
backers - France, Germany, the UK and Spain - is an illegal subsidy. The
Europeans complain about Washington's payments to Boeing.
For German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Tuesday's ceremony was too good an
opportunity to miss for a slight dig at the US.
"There is the tradition of good old Europe that has made this possible," he
said defiantly, sounding almost triumphant as he deliberately redefined the
phrase previously used by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
And Mr Schroeder went further, making it clear that Europe would continue
backing Airbus, within the framework of international trade rules.
"We have done that in the past, we are doing it now, and we will do so in
the future," he said.
But the endorsements by the four heads of government and state were not the
only reasons why Mr Forgeard was happy.
He was also joined by the heads of the 14 airlines that have placed firm
orders for the A380.
Flanked by some of the world's most powerful air industry chief executives,
there was no end to the mutual backslapping.
"We shall make a family photo," Mr Forgeard declared as he lined up for the
unique picture. "Something like this will never happen again."
Each and everyone of the executives was keen to make his mark on this
Predictably, Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson, the only one of
them not wearing a tie, outdid them all with the most outlandish
Passengers on Virgin's A380s, he declared, would be able to go to the gym or
use the aeroplane's beauty parlour. There would be large bars, a casino and
even a few double-beds, he said, quipping about there being "two ways of
getting lucky" on a Virgin A380 flight.
Lufthansa's chief executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber was more sober in his praise
for the aircraft, insisting its arrival would be good news for Lufthansa's
customers, its shareholders and the environment.
Jolly green giant. Indeed, the A380 aircraft was widely hailed as an
environmentally friendly aircraft.
Airbus says the aeroplane burns 12% less fuel than its competitor, the
Boeing 747, largely due to its wing design and its use of lightweight
Again the politicians were prepared to stick their neck to back the Airbus
promise. "The A380 is the only commercial plane designed from the outset to
be environmentally friendly", said Mr Blair. "It consumes less than three
litres of fuel per passengers over 100km, a rate comparable to a modern
The A380 is also supposed to be a quiet aircraft, which will meet ever
tougher noise pollution requirements.
"London Heathrow has the most stringent noise regulation in the world," said
Singapore Airlines chief executive Chew Choon Seng. "This aircraft is able
to meet those requirements."
With all the hype, though, it is easy to forget that the politicians and
chief executives are talking about a prototype aircraft.
The A380 is a plane that has never left the runway. Its first flight is due
to take place this spring, and it should go into commercial service in 2006.
The new Airbus is a big plane; but big questions about its future have not
yet been answered.