February 7, 2007
A very good PR exercise by Airbus as the media can be very effective in selling the A380, but a lot more work still needs to be done to inspire confidence in her.
The German engineer hailed as the "father of the A380" deplored the huge airliner's recent problems, but backed his brainchild's future as Airbus took media aloft for the first time on Wednesday.http://news.airwise.com/story/view/1170889026.html
Juergen Thomas, who steered Europe's superjumbo from the drawing board to industrial launch in 2000, said last year's wiring installation problems would soon be forgotten in the 50 year lifespan of the world's largest airliner.
"It is a big disaster to me that we have had all these problems," Thomas said aboard the 555-seat A380.
"For me it is terrible. They under-estimated the problems and they did not correct them early enough," he added.
Problems with wiring installation and software glitches have delayed the entry into service of Europe's superjumbo until late 2007 from early 2006. They have also cost parent EADS some EUR5 billion euros (USD$xxxx billion) in lost or deferred profits.
Airbus is expected to announce a major restructuring involving the loss of thousands of jobs on February 20.
For a charm offensive designed to repair a bad year for Airbus's public image, in which it has had three chief executives and just as many profit warnings, the planemaker put on a slick display starting at a brand-new jet delivery center.
Some 200 journalists were served champagne over the Pyrenees and got unaccustomed freedom to roam through the plane. Its spacious cabins were patrolled by Airbus executives ready to tell of its benefits over the Boeing 747.
"It has the power of 2,500 cars," beamed Airbus sales chief John Leahy as test pilot Wolfgang Absmeier powered up for take-off.
Aviation journalists said the plane seemed quieter and roomier than previous generations of wide-bodies they had flown.
"You don't get the feeling you are on two planes, one sitting on top of the other," said Dominique Gallois, who covers aerospace issues for influential French daily Le Monde.
"What strikes me is its relative silence and the spaciousness and the amount of light, even in economy class."
A seat in top-floor business class gives a clear view of the A380's massive wings, whose wing tips flex 4 metres (yards) upwards as the huge creature takes flight. And a closed-circuit camera perched on the demonstration model's tail broadcasts a live view of the exterior to drop-down screens in the cabin.
Media mobbed two bars staffed by crew from Lufthansa, one of 15 airlines that have bought a total of 166 planes. "They are very thirsty," laughed flight attendant Janny Staeck.
The final cabin layout to be used by airlines is a jealously guarded secret. Some have promised double beds or fancy shops.
Leahy confirmed at least one airline planned to put a shower in first class. But only the VIP version will have a jacuzzi.
Having proved to journalists that the aircraft flies, Airbus faces a bigger challenge in proving that Europe's biggest industrial project will fly both commercially and industrially.
It must also overcome political and union opposition to severe job cuts in France, Germany, France and Britain. Unions fear up to 5,000 jobs could go from a workforce of 55,000.
Thousands of staff have protested in France and Germany.
Analysts say sales have been relatively slow so far, with Boeing ready to do battle with a stretched 747 while doubting Airbus's forecasts of a big market for the larger A380.
But Leahy said Airbus aimed to sell 800-900 A380s in total, including 20 more to 2 airlines in 2007. Airbus has offered A380s to British Airways in competition with the 747, he said.
Thomas, who at 69 is retired but still exerts influence at Airbus, called designing the A380 the "the biggest challenge in commercial aviation". He said it would defy critics such as Boeing who say transport between huge "hub" airports is in decline.
Boeing says mid-sized jets serving more destinations will dominate future air travel. It dealt Airbus a blow with sales of its future 787 Dreamliner, forcing Airbus to redesign its A350.
The man whose job it is to repair the A380 industrial program rejected suggestions that the latest January profit warning indicated the project remained in disarray.
"I have my costs under control," A380 program head Mario Heinen told reporters.