April 26: The gigantic Airbus A380 is expected to take to skies for the first time within a couple of days. The biggest passenger aircraft in the history of civil aviation, the Airbus A380 first flight has aviation observers across the world keeping their eyes trained on Toulouse, France, from where the big bird will take off.
The A380 maiden flight photos are expected to be released by Airbus even as the first flight is in the sky. There will also be a live telecast of the first flight on the Airbus website.
Usually, test flights of aviation majors are routine affairs. But A380 is different: This big bird from the Airbus nest has unseated Boeing as the maker of the world's biggest aircraft. Currently, the largest aircraft on air is Boeing's 747.
The A380 will perform its maiden flight at Toulouse-Blagnac international airport in Toulouse with a six-member test flight crew. The crew has undergone its own thorough pre-flight preparations, including a “virtual first flight campaign” using a simulator with actual A380 on-board computers and real cockpit systems.
Sharing command of the A380 will be Captain Claude Lelaie, Senior Vice President, Flight Division and Chief Test Pilot Captain Jacques Rosay. Both captains are highly-experienced pilots who have completed a combined total of more than 13,000 hours of flight tests and performed the maiden flights of numerous Airbus aircraft including the A318, A340-500 and A340-600.
During the A380’s first flight, the pilots will undertake numerous manoeuvres to test the aircraft as a whole. Fernando Alonso, Vice President of Airbus’ Flight Test Division, will be the flight test engineer responsible for monitoring the flight controls and overall aircraft structure during the mission.
He will be joined by fellow flight test engineers Jacky Joye and Manfred Birnfeld whose respective tasks are to monitor the engines and the fuel systems, and systems behaviour. Also on-board will be test flight engineer Gérard Desbois who will remain on the flight deck of the first A380 during its entire test programme as he needs to know be aware of any modifications made to the aircraft during the programme.
However, it will take a while for the Airbus A380 to enter active service. It is expected to take off with the first set of commercial passengers only in 2006.
Boeing doesn't believe in building big-size jets any more. The A380 can carry 555 passengers on board. Boeing sees a demand for only 270 aircraft of A380- size, whereas Airbus sees a demand for 1250 aircraft of A380 size. It may be noted that the Airbus is currently the world's largest aircraft maker. Boeing comes a close second.
Airbus already has firm orders for 144 A380 aircraft in hand. Those who have lined up for A380 are Singapore Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Emirates, Air France-KLM Group, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Korean Air and China Southern Airlines. Airbus expects to reach break-even point for the A380 once it sells 300 planes. Earlier, the number was pegged at 250 planes.
BY OUR AVIATION CORRESPONDENT