Airbus said that a new era for air travel had begun on Tuesday when the A380 – the world’s first double-deck passenger aircraft – was unveiled.
The world took its first official look at the biggest airliner ever to be built during a spectacular ceremony attended by the leaders of four countries, the heads of 14 airlines and operators – Airbus’ A380 customers – shareholders and thousands of invited onlookers, including hundreds of journalists.
The A380 launch resembled an olympic opening ceremony with a stunning sound and light show featuring fireworks and illuminated fountains which, Airbus said “captured the magical romance of flying and conjured up the spirit and imagination of Airbus”.
Four giant human figures, representing the cultures of France, Germany, Spain and Britain paraded on stage. A flying machine represented Man’s romantic desire to fly as it has manifested itself through the centuries. Images of Airbus aircraft, from the A300/A310 Family, A320 Family and A330/A340 Family, flew across a sky backdrop and round the auditorium. Airbus’ A380 customers also appeared on screen expressing why they wanted the A380: its capacity, innovation, range, fuel and cost efficiency, environmental friendliness and cabin comfort.
As four children released the veil to reveal the gleaming new aircraft, the first sight of the Airbus flagship of the 21st century drew loud and spontaneous applause from the audience of nearly 5,000.
Simultaneously revealed was the brand new Airbus livery – crossing lines of blue, grey and white symbolising the blend of cultures and innovations.
Before joining shareholders to press a button to light up the A380 and christen the aircraft, Noël Forgeard spoke of the “optimism” and “commitment driven by confidence in the future” which the success of Airbus and the A380 programme embodied. All four national leaders spoke of the great achievement the A380 represented for Airbus employees and for the company’s shareholders and suppliers worldwide.
Before the ceremony, the Airbus President and Chief Executive Officer outlined the achievements that had been reached since the programme’s formal launch in 2000, and thanked all who had participated in creating the “magnificent aircraft” that they were there today to unveil.
Commenting that the size of the event was matched only by the size of the A380, Mr Forgeard said that he particularly wanted to thank the A380 customers for their confidence in Airbus and its flagship aircraft.
The A380 will offer additional floor space and far from using the extra capacity to accommodate more passengers, there is also the ability to innovate and increase passenger comfort that were crucial. Chairman of Virgin Atlantic, Sir Richard Branson added that his A380s will offer facilities such as gyms, casinos and beauty parlours.
And with air freight increasing at a double-digit growth rate, according to CEO of FedEx Corporation, Frederick W. Smith, the range and capacity of the A380 freighter was a “powerful tool” that would enable his customers to “access the global economy”.
As the latest “but not the last” A380 customer, UPS Airlines President, John Beystehner underlined that “this engineering feat of grand proportions” would shrink the globe, enabling his company to deliver his customers’ products more efficiently. He concluded by adding that aviation continues to be a force to open trade around the world and the A380 can be a powerful tool in delivering on this commitment.
Mr Forgeard told guests and journalists in Toulouse, “I pay homage to everyone who has made this day possible and I am eager to return this honour to them,” he said. “In circumstances such as these it is customary to recall the results we have achieved, but the A380 speaks for itself.”
Mr Forgeard paid an emotional tribute to Jean-Luc Lagardère, one of Airbus’ pioneering forefathers whose vision drove the A380 programme from the beginning and after whom the A380 final assembly line is named. “He was the embodiment of optimistic entrepreneurial spirit and we owe him so much today – an occasion on which he would have been so proud,” he said.
Recalling Europe’s heritage of using knowledge and understanding to push the boundaries of engineering, Mr Forgeard told the audience how the A380 sits proudly within this heritage. “In these great aircraft there is the mixture of rigour and dreams which is, and always has been, at the heart of the wealth of European culture.”
With employees as far apart as Beijing, China, and Wichita in the US, Mr Forgeard also paid tribute to the diversity of Airbus’ workforce and its partnership with suppliers across the world. “There are 85 different nationalities at Airbus, which is to say that every day we enjoy 85 different ways of seeing the world.” Airbus has sought to symbolise this sense of diversity in the company’s new livery, proudly on display on the A380’s vertical tail plane. p>British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “The A380 is the most exciting aircraft in the world and is a symbol of economic strength, technological innovation and a dedicated workforce.” He took the opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and skills of workers in the UK and across Europe. “They deserve great praise for their contribution to this aircraft,” he said.
“The A380 is the result of unprecedented co-operation between the four countries and today was the culmination of many years of hard work. This is a day of which we can all be truly proud.”
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the occasion was “a great day for Europe and the aviation industry and a triumph of engineering in the best traditions of our four countries. I still remember coming to Toulouse many years ago to discuss the A380 and how the project could be supported. And to those people who then said, ‘Lord knows when this project might happen’, we present this aircraft today,” he said.
“You have written a piece of European history and I wish you all the best for the future.”
Spanish Prime Minister José-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero described the A380 as a ‘monument of intelligence’ and a milestone in the capacity of human progress. Seeing the aircraft, he said people would reach the conclusion that ‘Europe can’t be stopped’.
He said the dream was made possible only because four countries came together under the single blue flag of the European Union, adding: “It’s the best example of civilised co-existence devised by man.”
The four heads of state then joined Airbus President and CEO Noël Forgeard and the heads of airlines and Airbus shareholders in pressing the button which floodlit the A380 to a rapturous round of applause from the assembled guests and media.
Airbus is setting new standards in innovation and technology with the A380, the 555-seat airliner which goes into service in 2006.
A greater use of composites than ever before combined with improved aerodynamics, systems and avionics means that the A380 will not only be the most spacious civil aircraft ever built but will set aviation standards for the 21st century.
With the A380, an array of new technologies for materials, processes, systems and engines has been developed, tested and adopted.
The A380 is evidence of Airbus’ faith in the increasing use of composites. Some 25 per cent of the aircraft is built using composite material – 22 per cent carbon fibre reinforced plastic and three per cent GLARE fibre-metal laminate, which is used for the first time on a civilian airliner.
Also for the first time the aircraft has a composite centre wing-box, a crucial primary structure which connects the wings to the fuselage. Another first is the composite rear fuselage section behind the rear pressure bulkhead. As well as these composites the A380 has a significant proportion of advanced metallic materials which also offer advantages such as operational reliability and ease of repair and maintenance. CFRP does not suffer fatigue or corrosion in service. GLARE, which is used for the upper fuselage shells, has also been proved to be extremely resistant to fatigue and corrosion as well as fire and damage. However, weight saving is one of the greatest advantages of composites, leading to less fuel burn, fewer emissions and lower operating costs.
Next week NetComposites News will report on the A380 testing programme which will last some 26 months and 1000 hours of test flights before the A380 comes into commercial service in 2006.
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