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Mon, Nov 27, 2006 - Page 10 News List

A380 superjumbo starts final leg of tests for certification

AFP , TOULOUSE, FRANCE

The AirbusA380 started a global circumnavigation on Saturday which will take in the South and North Poles on the last of a series of test flights before it applies for its air safety certificate.

The plane, which is being tested under commercial conditions, is seeking to gain its airworthiness certificate by the middle of next month from European and US aviation safety authorities.

It flies from Toulouse, France, where it is assembled, to Johannesburg, Sydney and Vancouver before returning to France.

The superjumbo left the southwestern city for South Africa at 9:15pm and is expected back in Toulouse on Thursday between 12:30pm and 1pm.

"We'll be in Johannesburg on Sunday. The next day we'll be in Sydney after flying over the South Pole for a very long 16-hour flight," said Fernando Alonso, vice president of Airbus' flight testing division. "This is certainly not the shortest route, but since we will fly not far from the pole we wanted to fly over this iconic place."

After Australia, the A380 will head to Vancouver before returning to Toulouse.

"During the flight to Toulouse, there will be pilots of the US aviation authority FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] who will witness the proper functioning of the plane," Alonso added.

On Friday, the giant plane returned from 18 days of testing which took it to Asia, with stop-offs at major airports including Singapore, home of Singapore Airlines.

Singapore Airlines should take delivery of the first A380 next October, but deliveries are around two years behind schedule owing to electrical cabling problems.

"During these three flights, the plane performed remarkably well ... There were no major breakdowns, only some faults which we were already aware of," Alonso said. "Each flight and each landing were on time."

"Overall, at the moment, you could say `move along, there's nothing to see,'" he added, indicating that, during tests, the plane was set to notch up 150 hours' flying time.

"We are a month ahead of the program schedule," said Gilles Robert, former director of testing at Airbus.

The plane's first flight took place in April last year.

When asked about clients' concerns over late delivery, Alonso simply said that "people were so happy to see the plane that they did not raise the subject with us members of the technical team."

Companies in Asia and the Pacific area represent around 30 percent of orders placed -- 44 out of a total 149.

At the end of this latest flight, the giant plane will have completed 17 days of tests in a normal operational environment.

Asked of its chances of gaining certification, Alonso replied that "until the ticket is delivered, you never know, but we are beginning to see the light very clearly."

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