Americans Gawk at World's Largest Plane

The two year delay in delivery because of wiring and other engineering problems is well known. In fact there have been two delays and turmoil at Airbus and its parent EADS -- European Air and Defense Systems. In the midst of all of this, the only two U.S. customers -- cargo carriers FedEx and UPS -- cancelled their orders.

Other customers are privately furious with Airbus because they believe the production problems have led to the perception among potential passengers that there is something wrong with the plane itself. With Lufthansa in the lead, they have urged Airbus for months to undertake the kind of public relations offensive it has finally begun. And there was reported reluctance at Airbus to do even this minimal damage control.

A critical issue is sales of the A-380. It cost more than $12 billion to develop, with the delays now adding to those costs. It will take at least 250 sales for Airbus to break even, but net orders now stand at 156, split among 14 airlines.

American John Leahy, the top Airbus marketing executive, spoke optimistically during one of the U.S. flights.

"There will be a big ramp-up in sales in the second half of 2008," he said. "By then, five airlines will be flying the A-380 and potential customers will see what a marvel it is."

Leahy pointed back to history, saying that sales of the 747 were sluggish when it was first introduced in 1970.

"But when other airlines saw," he said, "they had to be competitive with the new jumbo, they bought it."

But what about U.S. passenger carriers, two -- Delta and Northwest -- still in bankruptcy, and others strapped for cash? Leahy sees United and Northwest as potential customers because of their Pacific routes, "and this is a perfect plane for the Pacific."

In all, Leahy says Airbus will eventually sell 1,600 A-380s.

But as a footnote, only New York's JFK and San Francisco International Airport are ready to handle the super jumbo, it's passenger load -- and, of course, the baggage. And there was no real test of loading and off loading that many passengers or that much luggage on the test flights.

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