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Airbus takes workers for a ride

The Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft, sits near the new Terminal 3, Pier 6 after landing for the first time at Heathrow Airport in London on May 18, 2006.

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TESS VIGELAND: European planemaker Airbus put its employees to work in France today: about 470 of them strapped into one of the company's new super-jumbo A-380s. And they all went for a little test drive. It was something of a milestone for the massive double-decker plane. Good thing, 'cause it's missed other important milestones, like being ready for customers on time. With those costly delays and several leadership shakeups, some wonder whether today's maiden passenger voyage was little more than dog and pony. Marketplace's Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: It's been compared to a restaurant taking a dry run before opening to the public. You want to make sure you're not tripping over things and spilling drinks.

Airbus says the goal of the test flight is to put the world's largest passenger jet through its paces. Airbus wants to ensure its clients that they'll be receiving a "fully mature aircraft."

Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group says, nice try.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: It's a clever PR move. Ultimately it's nice to have 470 of your employees showing support for this jet and making a central message that this is a very safe plane, but that was never really the issue. The issue is economics not safety.

Economics like costly delays to the $13 billion program. And those may have made this spanking new jet dated before it even hits the tarmac.

High fuel costs and congested airports are pushing airlines toward leaner, sleeker models. Boeing's answer is the 787 Dreamliner, a fuel-efficient mid-sized jet capable of making long haul flights.

And Aboulafi says even Airbus has begun shifting its strategy away from the super-expensive super-jumbo.

ABOULAFIA: Right now the bulk of Airbus's technology future the bulk of their market future revolves around a new program called the A350 XWB, which is a direct competitor to both the 787 and the 777. In other words, they're basically admitting that the center of the market is actually a couple notches below the A380 in size.

He says the recent leadership shakeup at Airbus reflects a move away from grandstanding designs and back to business basics.

Today Airbus replaced the head of its super-jumbo program.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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