Singapore lays out grand welcome for history-making A380

Singapore laid out a grand welcome for its brand new Airbus A380, the world's largest plane that arrives Wednesday from the assembly line in France for a history-making journey next week.

The jetliner was delivered to Singapore Airlines on Monday in Toulouse, France, and was scheduled to touch down Wednesday evening at the Changi Airport. After one week's preparations, the plane will create history when it makes its first commercial flight on Oct. 25 to Sydney.

The double-decker jetliner, which took seven years and about US$13 billion (EUR9 billion) to develop, rolled off the assembly line nearly two years behind schedule.

But the wait was worth it, said Singapore Airlines, which has created a massive sense of anticipation and hype around the revolutionary plane's entry into the airline industry. It has been touted as a highly fuel-efficient aircraft with the most silent cabin among all large passenger jets.

"We are glad that Airbus took the time to make sure that the plane is fully tested and developed before it enters commercial service," said Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Chew Choon Seng.

The superjumbo will be greeted with a water salute - after landing it will taxi to its gate under a canopy of water sprayed by fire trucks positioned on both sides of the tarmac. A lion dance outside the plane will greet the crew before Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong boards the aircraft for a tour.

Singapore Airlines, recognized as one of the best airlines in the world, is known for its top-end service. But it appears to have gone the extra mile to equip the A380 with the best amenities.

The front portion of the plane will be occupied by 12 first class luxury suites, each equipped with a proper bed, a 23-inch (58 centimeter) flat panel television, working table, a reclining chair and gourmet food. Two of the suites will have double beds.

The upper deck will accommodate 60 business class passengers on state-of-the art seats that recline to turn into horizontal beds. Economy class, spread over both decks, will have 399 seats.

The aircraft is large enough to squeeze in about 800 economy class seats, but this jet is configured to seat 471 people - which means that even its least-paying passengers will have more leg room and knee room than on other flights, according to Singapore Airlines.

Airbus' A380's nearest rival, the Boeing 747, can carry up to 568 people in a two-class configuration.

Singapore Airlines first announced its intention to become an A380 customer in September 2000, when the superjumbo jet was still a concept. It placed an order for 10 A380s and options on a further 15.

The firm order was increased to 19 in July 2006. At catalog prices, the commitment to the 19 firm orders, including engines and spares, is worth about US$5.7 billion. But airlines typically get discounts, which are rarely disclosed.

Airbus, a European consortium, is committed to handing over 13 planes to Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines and Quantas in 2008, 25 in 2009, and 45 in 2010.

Officials say production will be the biggest challenge for the problem-ridden project, which was initially estimated to cost US$10.7 billion (EUR7.6 billion). But the company warned that delays and cost overruns could raise the development cost by another US$2.1 billion (EUR1.5 billion).

With 189 orders or firm commitments, Airbus is hoping to see 200 on its books by year-end.

Airbus has already been hit with penalties for late delivery of the A380, which combined with spiraling development costs wiped billions of euros off profits.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova