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Eu announces largest passenger jet from airbus

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Largest passenger jet unveiled

TOULOUSE, France -- The world's biggest-ever passenger plane, the Airbus A380, has been introduced to the world near the southern French city of Toulouse, in the presence of four European leaders and 5,000 invited guests.

The A380 superjumbo, made by the European company Airbus, was revealed at a lavish presentation at its hangar in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

French President Jacques Chirac called the A380 "a veritable liner of the skies" and said its debut "is for all of us a moment of emotion and pride."

"Your adventure is a great success for Europe," he told Airbus workers.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the aircraft "would change the way we travel."

The show began with music, clouds of dry ice and dancers in the hangar where A380s are assembled -- one of the largest enclosed spaces in Europe.

Projected images of planes from the Airbus range sped across the hangar walls and dancers suspended on wires appeared to walk on air. Children tugged on a white cord to pull down a curtain, unveiling the plane lit in blue behind.

Hailed as a "European success story" by the European Union, the massive plane can seat up to 840 passengers on its two full decks, and its size easily eclipses the Boeing 747 that has ruled the commercial skies for decades.

Also attending were British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

France, Britain, Germany and Spain all invested heavily in the 10-year, &euro10-billion-plus (U.S. $13-billion-plus) program to make the plane.

Various ministers and the senior executives of most of the world's major airlines were also in attendance, prompting police to throw a security cordon around Toulouse and deploy more than 2,000 officers, including bomb squads and bodyguards.

CNN's Richard Quest said the unveiling of the new aircraft is the type of event that happens only once in a generation.

Although the A380 has not yet taken to the air -- the first test flights are scheduled for March -- 13 companies have already placed firm orders for 149 of the aircraft, which comes with a catalogue price of between U.S. $263 and $286 million (&euro200 and &euro218 million.)

The first commercial flight is expected to take place in March next year, when Singapore Airlines uses one of the planes on its London-Singapore route.

That airline and most others will likely use the usual three-class seating configuration -- first, business and economy -- which will see the A380 transporting some 555 passengers, 139 more than a similarly set-up 747.

Carbon fibre components and fuel-efficient technology also mean the the cost per passenger should be up to 20 percent less than on a 747, raising the possibility of cheaper tickets.

Some companies are looking at using the extra space on an A380 to install conveniences never before seen on commercial passenger jets. Bedrooms, gyms, bars and spacious lounges are all options.

Although the A380 project has run some $1.4 billion over budget, Airbus believes it will recoup its costs in 2008 and be an extremely profitable flagship product for decades to come.

Airbus chief Noel Forgeard told CNN the aircraft had already nearly covered its costs.

Speaking to the French press he said he was "extremely confident" that China would place orders for its increasingly busy skies.

Even though Airbus is a subsidiary of the listed European Aerospace and Defence Company, with 20 percent also in the hands of Britain's BAE Systems, France, Britain, Germany and Spain still see the A380 project as a high-flying symbol of the European state cooperation that brought it into being.

EU Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said Monday: "The Super-Airbus demonstrates that working together in the EU pays off."

That state backing -- and the early demand for the A380 -- has raised hackles at Boeing.

A World Trade Organization challenge by Boeing over European state subsidies, which Airbus countered with one of its own against the United States, has been put on hold for three months for both sides to try to reach a negotiated settlement without resorting to a damaging trade war.

Nevertheless, Boeing has been talking down the threat posed by the A380, notably by saying that few airports in the world were modified to take the bulk of the new superjumbo, despite Airbus's claims that 50 were ready.

The U.S. company has also embarked on an midsize long-range aircraft it is calling the 7E7 Dreamliner. Boeing is also looking at further modifying its ageing 747 to take 450 passengers.

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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