Airbus A380 superjumbo lands in Singapore in first test flight to Asia

The Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger jet, made its first landing in Asia Friday at Singapore's Changi Airport, kicking off a regional tour to woo new customers and showcase the plane a year before commercial delivery.

In its first long-haul test flight outside of Europe, the double-decker superjumbo touched by shortly after 10:00 a.m. (0200GMT) after completing a 13 hour flight covering 13,500 kilometers (8,389 miles) from Airbus' headquarters in Toulouse, southwest France.

As tall as a seven-story building and stretching about three-quarters of the length of a soccer field, the great white jet taxied down the runway amid tight security as hundreds of excited travelers and airport staff looked on.

"Airbus is delighted that the A380 completed its first landing in Singapore to mark the start of a successful tour of Asia-Pacific over the next week," Airbus spokesman Anthony Phillips told the Associated Press.

The A380 prototype was originally due to arrive Tuesday in Singapore _ the first stop of an Asian tour that includes Australia and Malaysia _ but Airbus postponed the trip to replace two of the plane's four engines.

Airbus is already running behind schedule in the A380 delivery for some Asian airlines, so the additional delay is an embarrassment for the European jet maker as it tries to make a splash in Asia and entice more buyers.

Seven carriers in the region have ordered a total of 49 A380s, accounting for 31 percent of 159 firm orders so far for the superjumbo, which has a list price of US$292 million (euro243 million).

Singapore Airline will be the first carrier to operate the plane but it has criticized Airbus for deferring the delivery of the first of 10 A380s by eight months to November 2006.

Australian carrier Qantas, which has ordered 12 of the jets, and Malaysian Airlines which has ordered six planes are also unhappy with the delay and believed to be seeking compensation.

Other A380 customers in the region are Thai Airways, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines and India's Kingfisher Airlines.

Singapore Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong is due to tour the jet Friday at Changi Airport, which has upgraded both its terminals to accommodate the A380.

With air travel expected to boom in the next 20 years, Airbus said the A380 _ designed to carry 555 passengers but can be stretched to accommodate 800 _ will help to ease airport congestion at major passenger hubs.

By 2006, it said 20 airports will be ready for the A380 including Singapore, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Paris, Dubai and New York. By 2008, 38 airports will be ready and 60 by 2010, it said in a statement.

The A380 leaves later Friday for Australia _ with stops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne _ for Qantas' 85th birthday celebrations. It heads to Malaysia on Nov. 17.

Airbus is hoping the A380 will help it maintain its edge over U.S. rival Boeing Co., whose aircraft deliveries are likely to fall behind Airbus for the third straight year. Boeing expects to deliver 290 airplanes this year, while Airbus expects to deliver 370.

Airbus views Asia a key market for the jet. By 2023, the company predicts the world's major airlines will need 1,250 very large, fuel-efficient aircraft like the A380 to cater to rapid growth in intercontinental travel.

It forecasts Asia-Pacific will account for 62 percent of world demand, or 774 aircraft. European carriers will need 20 percent of the colossal jets to meet travel growth to Asia, with North America and the Middle East taking 17 percent or 215 aircraft between them.

China and India are key growth markets, Airbus says, noting that current A380 customers have made plans that will result in 130 weekly A380 flights to China alone by 2010, AP reported. V.A.

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