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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 March 2006, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Volunteers injured in A380 drill
The Airbus A380 on its maiden flight last year
The A380 has been testing for nearly a year

One man broke his leg and another 32 people suffered minor injuries during an emergency evacuation drill of the new A380 superjumbo in Germany.

Plane owner Airbus said the exercise - a key step which the A380 must take to prove its airworthiness - was a "great success" despite the injuries.

About 850 passengers and 20 crew were evacuated from the plane in 80 seconds.

European and US regulators will reveal on Monday whether the drill met their safety requirements.

Key milestone

The drill is a key milestone on the road to certifying the plane for public use - which Airbus hopes to do by the end of 2006.

It has so far sold 159 A380s to 16 airlines, with the first due to go into service next year.

That was a very great success
Gustav Humbert, Airbus

Officials from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration Agency were present at Sunday's drill, which took place in Hamburg.

"That was a very great success," Gustav Humbert, Airbus' managing director, said of the exercise, despite the injuries.

The drill took place in an aircraft hangar in Hamburg, the site of one the company's largest factories.

"The initial impression is that the test went very well," EASA spokesman Daniel Hoeltgen said.

THE EVACUATION DRILL
853 passengers and 20 crew taking part
Lights were out in cabin
Debris was strewn across cabin
Half of exits were closed
Passengers were not told which exits were in use
Passengers had to wear their seat belts
Evacuation took 80 seconds
Drill had to feature at least 40% women, 35% people over 50

There was huge interest in the exercise and Airbus was inundated with volunteers wanting to take part, most from the local area.

This was despite the fact that none of the participants were paid and previous evacuation drills of civilian aircraft have resulted in serious injuries to volunteers.

The success of the exercise will determine the number of passengers that the aircraft can legally carry.

Although the A380 has room for 853 passengers, Airbus' first customers - including Singapore Airlines and Emirates - intend to carry only 650 passengers.

If required, Airbus will conduct a second drill early next month.

In the dark

The practice drill proved a nerve-wracking exercise for those taking part as well as those watching.

The passengers had 90 seconds to get out of their seats and to exit the aircraft by one of the eight exits available - the A380 has 16 exits but half of these were closed off.

The drill took place in the dark and passengers had to contend with luggage, blankets, pillows and other debris strewn across the aisles.

Airbus A380 in its hangar in Hamburg
Upper deck passengers are 26 feet above the ground

Those sitting in the upper tier of the twin-deck plane found themselves 26 feet off the ground, although emergency slides had been put in place before the exercise began.

To make the drill as realistic as possible, the volunteers represented a broad-cross section of the population in terms of age and sex.

About 40% of those taking part were women, while 35% had to be over the age of 50.

Three life-size dolls were carried on board to represent children under two-years old.

The A380 completed its maiden flight last year but Airbus had to drop plans for an evacuation drill in 2005 because of technical problems.




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