LONDON – The world's biggest passenger airliner landed for the first time at Europe's busiest airport Thursday, for tests to see if London Heathrow is ready for the Airbus A380.
"It is clearly quite a momentous day in U.K. aviation history," BAA Heathrow managing director Tony Douglas said just before the plane landed en route from the Berlin Air Show.
The superjumbo jet landed at a specially designed pier at the airport in west London.
The plane flew over the Airbus plant in north Wales, where the carrier's huge wings are made.
The A380 will stay at Heathrow for airport-compatibility tests before returning to Berlin early Friday.
Heathrow operator BAA is spending some $850 million to upgrade the airport to accommodate the A380 and other anticipated ultra-large aircraft of the future. Other work has included runway resurfacing, upgrading runway lighting and the construction of new taxiways.
Douglas said BAA has widened and strengthened a runway to accommodate the A380, which has a list price of $300 million. New, larger baggage carousels also have been installed at Terminal 3 to accommodate the 555 passengers that can travel on the aircraft.
Toulouse, France-based Airbus has so far taken 159 firm orders from 16 airlines and freight companies for the A380, with dozens more on option. Airbus Chief Operating Officer Charles Champion said there are no remaining delivery slots before 2011.
Singapore Airlines Ltd. will be the first carrier to put the plane into passenger service by the end of the year — already six months behind its original schedule. The airline said Thursday it expected to take delivery of its first A380 in November and plans for the plane to enter commercial service in December.
Champion, however, declined to commit firmly to that timetable.
"The target of Singapore Airlines is to receive it in November, and our target is to fulfill that request but our situation is that we intend to deliver by the end of the year," he said.
The A380 will overtake Boeing Co.'s 747 as the world's largest commercial jet when it enters service. Boeing announced late last year that it is launching the 747-8, a more fuel-efficient version of its double-decker plane, to compete with the A380.
Other airlines that have ordered A380s include Sir Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Dubai-based Emirates.
But a number of major carriers, including British Airways, have held back from committing themselves, preferring to see how the plane performs.
Airbus, majority owned by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., announced in April that the A380 had passed its emergency evacuation tests by the European Aviation and Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, an important step toward the superjumbo's official certification for commercial flights.
Earlier this year, a wing ruptured during ground tests. The company said the wings might need refinements at certain points as a result of the fracture, but any changes would not delay the delivery time.
BAA and Airbus staff will carry out a series of tests during the aircraft's brief stay in London, including crowd handling, Douglas said.