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Lufthansa and Qantas Airbus A380s make first test runs to US

Airbus SAS's 555-seat, double-decker A380, the largest passenger plane ever built, headed for New York and Los Angeles today on its first test flights to the US.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Qantas Airways Ltd. are testing airports scheduled to accept the plane, which has a wingspan of 262 feet (80 meters), a fuselage 239 feet long and stands nearly 80 feet from the ground to the top of its tail. Lufthansa has ordered Europe's biggest fleet of the A380, and plans to make the plane its flagship aircraft once it receives the first shipment in 2009. Deliveries are almost two years late because of problems with wiring installation. Its flight left Frankfurt at 10:50 a.m. local time and is to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 12:30 p.m. New York time.

The A380 is scheduled to begin commercial flights with Singapore Airlines Ltd. at the end of this year. The A380 will overtake Boeing Co.'s 420-seat 747-700 model as the world's biggest airliner. Los Angeles will be the first US destination, served by Australian airline Qantas. Today's flight left Toulouse, France, at 5:07 a.m. local time, and is to arrive in California at 9:30 a.m. local time, carrying Airbus pilots assisted by a Qantas ground crew. US airport operators are investing in runway and terminal expansions to handle the plane, which at 1.2 million pounds (560 metric tons) will outweigh the 747-700 by more than 324,000 pounds.

Lufthansa is testing the plane with flights to New York, Washington and Hong Kong from its main Frankfurt hub to determine how well the airports handle the model in regular service. It's the Cologne, Germany-based airline's first chance to test the A380 with its own personnel. Airbus, the world's biggest maker of commercial planes, was at least two years behind schedule in deliveries of the A380 cargo model, prompting customers to void orders or switch to the passenger version. The plane has cost the company and parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. $19 billion so far to develop. (Bloomberg)