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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
Airbus A380 test pilots prepare
Airbus test pilots Jacques Rosay and Claude Lelaie; copyright Stuart McAlister, Surface to Air Pictures
Airbus' test pilots are getting ready
European aircraft maker Airbus is gearing up for the maiden test flight on Wednesday of its A380 jumbo jet, the world's largest passenger aircraft.

The twin-deck jumbo's first flight has been keenly anticipated since the razzmatazz of its unveiling in January.

Airbus has invested heavily in the A380, betting on a strategy of building huge long-haul planes to fly between major airports.

Arch-rival Boeing has chosen to focus on mid-sized short-haul aircraft.

Take off

The A380 is due to take off from its production site in Toulouse, southern France.

More than 50,000 people are expected to watch the flight, which will also be broadcast live on television, Agence France Presse said.

The A380 superjumbo, unveiled in Toulouse in January

"The first flight will take place Wednesday, if weather permits and excluding a last-minute technical glitch," an Airbus spokeswoman told the news agency.

There is likely to be more than a year of flight-testing and certification-programme work before the A380 starts commercial services.

The project, hailed as a European success story by leaders including France's President Jacques Chirac, has had its share of problems.

In December 2004, Airbus owner EADS revealed that the project was 1bn (1.5bn euros; $1.9bn) over budget, at more than 8.4bn.

However, Airbus says it is comfortably on track to meet a break-even sales target of 250 aircraft, with 154 orders secured so far.

Competition between Airbus and Boeing for jet orders - always intense - became feverish as Airbus set out to notch up enough orders to make its giant jumbo profitable. Boeing on Monday announced a $6bn order for 32 jets from Air Canada.

Pan-European firm EADS owns 80% of Airbus, with the UK's BAE Systems controlling the remaining 20%.

Spat

Its production has also intensified a trade row between the US and Europe over subsidies paid to the aircraft industry.

The EU and US have accused each other of helping Airbus and Boeing with illegal state subsidies.

Talks broke down earlier this month and it looks as if both sides are heading for a showdown at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Airbus is banking on demand for large planes offering cheaper seats between the world's major cities.

Boeing, meanwhile, reckons that the future of air travel will be smaller planes flying to a greater number of airports.




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