Aug. 16, 2007 -- The first passenger flight of the long-delayed superjumbo A-380 will take place Oct. 25, Singapore Airlines and Airbus announced today.
Production problems, particularly with the wiring, have delayed the double-decker's debut for two years. The plane's troubles burdened the Airbus balance sheet as the company was forced to pay compensation to customers for the late delivery. That contributed to a massive management shakeup and restructuring at Airbus and parent European Air Defense Systems.
Singapore, the A-380 launch customer, said the plane's maiden passenger voyage will be from Singapore to Sydney. The plane's Oct. 15 delivery will "mark the beginning of a new chapter for the aviation industry," Singapore CEO Choon Chew Seng said.
With a fuselage and wingspan each almost as long as a football field and a tail nearly eight stories tall, the $300 million jet has 50 percent more floor space than Boeing's 747-400. The A-380 can carry a maximum 853 passengers, but has a suggested passenger load of 555 in a three-class configuration.
Singapore plans to put just 471 seats on board divided among first, business and economy class.
Business and economy class will use upgraded, wider seats with more legroom, shown last year. In first class, Singapore today promised a first-class "suite," but declined to offer details except to say, "It will redefine luxury in the air."
It's the latest round in international airlines dueling "maximum first class," which includes private rooms, long wide beds, huge flat-screen video monitors for enhanced entertainment systems and even bidets in lavatories.
The biggest unanswered question is what, besides seats, Singapore Airlines will do with all that extra space. That is the airline's top secret, but it could include a pub or small dining room, stand-up bars and other such amenities.
Neither Singapore nor any other of the plane's customers' plans to use the space for grandiose schemes like gyms or casinos Airbus once boasted the plane could accommodate. Most of the space will be used for seats, to produce revenue.
Fourteen customers have ordered the A-380, but none of the U.S. carriers. Latest figures from Airbus show the total number of orders stuck at 160, another problem caused by the delay. While analysts disagree whether the A-380 will ever be a success, most believed that by now it would have sold more than 200 planes, near break even for Airbus' $12 billion in development costs.
But none of that can diminish the historic nature of the first flight. Singapore will auction seats on eBay to raise money for three charities: Doctors Without Borders, Singapore's Community Chest and two children's hospitals in Sydney. Demand is expected to be great.
The date of the first A-380 passenger flight to the United States hasn't been announced.