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The A380: a Cruise Ship of the Skies

The red carpet was rolled out in Toulouse, France, on Tuesday for the official unveiling of the new Airbus. The A380 is larger and more luxurious than any commercial aircraft ever made before.

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Sleek on the outside, a designer's dream inside

For passengers sick of those tacky color combinations in airplane interiors, the A380 is a feast for the eyes. The new Airbus "super-jumbo" airplane, officially unveiled Tuesday, is the product of a decade of designing.

The double-decker vessel can carry up to 840 passengers, more than any other commercial aircraft. It will rank as one of the largest machines ever to take to the air, with a wingspan of 80 meters (262 feet), an overall length of 73 meters, a height of 24 meters and a maximum take-off weight of 560 tons.

Propelled by four engines, the A380 will have a standard range of some 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) -- enough to fly from New York to Rome and back. It will travel at speeds up to 950 kilometers per hour.

Airbus A380

Anyone for a drink?

It has the character of a luxurious cruise ship and the comfort of a five-star hotel. The Airbus designers planned bedroom cabins, resting rooms for crew, offices, a gym, conference rooms, play areas for children, as well as a shopping area.

Getting lucky on the A380

The double-decker giant will be built in various formats, depending on customers' demands. It is configured for economy, business and first classes. A typical vessel will be able to take 555 passengers on board, with the flying elite treated to frills such as full-size beds, a bar and lounges.

Airbus A380

First-class passengers on the A380 will definitely get a good night's sleep

Airlines will be able to configure the plane according to the service they prefer to sell. Bar, sauna, showers -- Airbus can offer a lot, but it's not allowed to do everything, said the company's spokesman David Voskuhl.

"For the time being, we will gladly put anything in that the customer wants, of course in line with what's technically possible and allowed," said Voskuhl. "I don't think we're going to be seeing an open fireplace. To what extent there will be a swimming pool or something to that nature on board, is certainly left up to the airline's economic considerations."

Airbus A380

A living room with all the comforts of home

Virgin Atlantic is not holding back. It will offer a beauty therapist area, a gym, a casino and double beds.

"Since you have gambling and you have private double beds, maybe there are two ways of getting lucky on a Virgin plane," Virgin Chairman Richard Branson told reporters.

A European baby

Voskuhl said that the world’s only twin-deck, four aisle airliner represented European cooperation at its finest.

"Most of the body sections and the vertical tail are from Germany," said Voskuhl. "The horizontal tail comes from Spain. The cockpit and the central body section are French-made, and the wings are from England."

Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 presents a new dimension in airline design

For the European Union, the plane marked a resounding success for European cooperation.

"The A380 is a symbol of what Europe can achieve by working together," the EU's Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said in a statement.

France, Britain, Germany and Spain all invested heavily in the 10-year, over €10 billion ($13 billion) program to make the plane.

The first test flights of the A380 are scheduled for March. In 2006, passengers on Singapore Airlines will be the first to enjoy the design and luxury of the plane.

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