The world's largest passenger plane makes its debut in the United States Monday, as two of Airbus' A380 superjumbos head for simultaneous landings in New York and Los Angeles.
The first trans-Atlantic flights for the 555-seat, double-decker plane are part of exercises to ensure that it is compatible with two major U.S. airports, which have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to accommodate the giant plane.
The arrivals are set for 12:30 p.m. New York time, at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. Between them, those two facilities are spending about $300 million to widen runways and provide special docking equipment for the plane, which has a wingspan almost the length of an American football field.
The flight to New York from Frankfurt is being operated in conjunction with Germany's Lufthansa, and will carry about 500 Airbus and Lufthansa employees along with Airbus suppliers and VIPs.
The flight to Los Angeles, from Toulouse, France, is being operated with Australia's Qantas, carrying only its crew and a squad of engineers. Both airlines are customers for the A380, which is set to enter service with Singapore Airlines in October.
Airbus has spent more than $10 billion developing the A380, which has a list price of about $319 million. So far it has racked up 156 orders from 14 customers, but has yet to score an order from a U.S. airline.
Signing up a U.S. airline would be a huge financial and morale boost for Airbus, owned by Europe's EADS, which has been dragged into billion of dollars in losses and corporate turmoil by delays on the huge plane, which is now two years overdue.
The aircraft was designed to challenge Boeing's dominance in the very large plane market, which it has virtually had to itself with its long-running 747. The latest, stretched version of the 747 is actually longer than the A380, but the European plane towers over its rival and can accommodate 90 or so more passengers in a standard configuration.
According to Airbus, the A380 makes half the noise of a 747 and is more fuel efficient, which it hopes will appeal to airlines looking to make better returns from popular long-haul routes.