BLAGNAC, France — After 11 years of preparation and $13 billion in spending, the world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, is scheduled to fly for the first time today.
Weather permitting, Airbus test pilots will power the four engines on a test model of the 555-seat “superjumbo” to lift its 308-ton frame aloft. About 50,000 onlookers are expected for what some are calling the biggest aviation event since Concorde’s first flight in 1969.
The first A380 flight is tentatively set to begin around midmorning and could last for much of the day as the plane circles the region, beaming back real-time measurements of 150,000 parameters to Airbus headquarters from its 22 tons of on-board test instruments.
Industry analysts are keeping a close watch on Airbus, which hopes to woo customers away from rival Boeing Co. with the A380 but has yet to prove that it can turn a profit on its superjumbo investment, a third of which came from came from European governments.
As Airbus and Boeing spar over what each calls unfair government subsidies for the other, the rival aircraft manufacturers have staked their success on competing visions of the future of commercial air travel.
The A380, with a catalogue price of $282 million, represents a huge bet that international airlines will need bigger aircraft to transport passengers between ever-busier hub airports.