Airbus unveiled the world's biggest passenger jet Tuesday in a ceremony at in Toulouse, southwest France. French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero attended the presentation, along with 5,000 guests from the world's aviation sector and media.
The A380 superjumbo, which can carry up to 840 people on its two full decks supersedes the aging 747 by U.S. rival Boeing as the biggest civilian aircraft ever made. When it is put into service early next year, it will become the flagship of many airline fleets and offer unprecedented amenities on long-haul services, including, in some cases, gyms, bedrooms and bars.
Thirteen airlines have already placed firm orders for 139 of the planes. Airbus calculates that by 2008 it will reach the break-even point of 250 A380s sold, and from that point it will turn out 35 of the aircraft per year to rising profits. The biggest buyer of the new plane is the Emirates airline, which has ordered 43. "The A380 will be the future of air travel," said its chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum.
French President Jacques Chirac called the project a "big success" and said: "We can, and we must, go further on this path of European construction so essential for growth and employment." British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the plane was "the culmination of many years of hard work" and congratulated the workers across Europe who made it happen. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Europe was "unstoppable" when it pooled its efforts.