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Airbus A380 Test Includes Passengers

The world's largest jet flies 474 for seven hours. Project delays spur more management changes.

September 05, 2006|From the Associated Press

PARIS — The Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger jet, took to the sky for a test flight Monday with a full load of passengers, and the European aircraft maker announced further management changes in the wake of costly delays for the $13-billion jet program.

The 308-ton jet touched down Monday evening after flying a seven-hour round-trip from Toulouse, France, with 474 Airbus employees on board, on the first of four test flights scheduled this week to try out the plane's cabin environment and systems.

Airbus says it is on schedule to deliver the first finished A380 to Singapore Airlines Ltd. by the end of the year, despite production bottlenecks that are expected to hold up subsequent deliveries by about six months.

The latest hitches led to the ouster of Airbus Chief Executive Gustav Humbert as well as Noel Forgeard, joint CEO of Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co., weeks after they were announced in June.

Monday saw a further management shuffle at Airbus, which named a new head of the A380 program.

Mario Heinen, previously in charge of the single-aisle A320 plane family, replaces Charles Champion -- who steps down from his role as chief operating officer, but stays on as an advisor to Christian Streiff, who succeeded Humbert as chief executive in July.

Streiff has imposed a temporary hiring freeze at Airbus and is scheduled to report to shareholders by the end of this month on the full extent of the A380 delays after a detailed audit.

With the A380, Airbus has bet heavily on future demand for very large planes to fly growing numbers of travelers among the world's increasingly congested major airports.

In mid-sized, long-range jets Airbus is about four years behind its U.S.-based rival Boeing Co.'s next-generation plane, the 787 Dreamliner, which is tailored to cover more destinations with more frequent, nonstop services.

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