For those of us who live in London, the Airbus A380 is now a familiar sight, lumbering through the air on its way from Singapore, Australia or the Middle East to London’s Heathrow airport. At the last count, 156 of the beasts are now flying round the world.
But it only flew for the first time on this day in 2005, when it made its first test flight at the assembly plant in Toulouse.
The plane began life in secret in 1988. Airbus forecast that in the 21st century, the airline industry would grow on a ‘hub and spoke’ model, with a small number of huge long-haul ‘hub’ airports feeding regional centres.
These new mega-airports would need a mega-jet if the number of take-offs and landings was to be kept manageable while growth in passengers was accommodated. And so the A380 – which typically carries 525 passengers in three classes, but can carry up to 853 passengers –was born.
Development of the plane was far from trouble free. The programme cost some $25bn and the first deliveries were over a year late. And the planned cargo version was scrapped. It’s still not clear whether Airbus’s gamble will pay off, or if Boeing’s bet on smaller aircraft will win the day.
Components are made throughout Europe – in the UK, Germany, Spain and France – and shipped for final assembly in Toulouse. The plane contains 330 miles of wiring and has a wingspan over 79m – the paint on it alone weighs over 500kg. It has a range of 9,300 miles and cruises at 560mph. It uses 20% less fuel than a 747, and, fully laden, is more fuel efficient than a Toyota Prius.
Middle Eastern airlines especially have taken the plane to their hearts. The vast amount of space available means they can carry plenty of economy passengers, but at the same time really pamper those who are paying for first class.