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Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Airbus prepares to bring A380 on first Asian tour

SUPERJUMBO The test trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Australia is off to a slow start, however, with Airbus having delayed the plane's arrival until Friday

AP , KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

The Airbus superjumbo A380 makes its maiden test flight out of Europe this week with a three-nation tour of Asia-Pacific, a core market for the European jet maker as it seeks to woo more airlines in the region.

But the trip is already off to an inauspicious start even before it begins.

The visit to Singapore, Malaysia and Australia to check airport readiness and test the long-range capability of the world's largest passenger jet a year before it enters commercial service has been delayed three days due to technical problems.

Airbus said on Saturday it has put off the departure of an A380 prototype from France in order to replace two of the plane's four engines as a "precautionary measure" at Rolls-Royce's request, but did not elaborate on the problems.

The double-decker mega jet is to land in Singapore on Friday instead of tomorrow, and then fly to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, for the 85th birthday celebrations of Australian carrier Qantas, which has ordered 12 of the jets. It heads to Malaysia on Nov. 17.

Airbus has already pushed back A380 delivery dates for some Asian airlines, so this additional delay -- and what might be behind it -- is an embarrassment for the company as it tries to make a splash in Asia and entice more buyers.

Seven carriers in the region have ordered a total of 49 A380s, accounting for 31 percent of 159 firm orders for the super jumbo so far.

"There were already production delays earlier which angered some customers, so the Asian tour is an important marketing run for the A380. If successful, it can help convince other Asian carriers to come on board," said Vince Ng, aviation analyst with Mayban Securities in Kuala Lumpur.

But he said Airbus, which has two training and spare parts centers in Asia based in Singapore and Beijing, must assure airlines that maintenance costs for the A380 are reasonable.

Singapore Airlines, which has ordered 10 A380s with an option to buy five more, is set to be the first carrier to operate the A380. But in August, it criticized Airbus for delaying the first delivery from March to November next year.

Malaysia Airline, which owns Southeast Asia's biggest passenger plane fleet, is seeking compensation after Airbus postponed delivery of the first of six A380s by six months to July 2007.

Other A380 customers in the region are Thai Airways, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines and India's Kingfisher Airlines.

Despite production problems and irate customers, Airbus is optimistic about the future of the A380, which eclipses the Boeing 747 as the biggest commercial jetliner in the world.

By 2023, Airbus predicts the world's major airlines will need 1,250 very large, fuel-efficient aircraft like the A380 to cater to rapid growth in intercontinental travel.

It forecasts that the Asia-Pacific will account for 62 percent of global demand, or 774 aircraft. European carriers will need 20 percent of the jets to meet travel growth to Asia, with North America and the Middle East taking 17 percent or 215 aircraft.

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