Airbus superjumbo makes UK debut
Heathrow landing is crucial test for huge jet
The A380 touches down at Heathrow airport for the first time.
LONDON, England (CNN) -- The European Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger jet, touched down in Britain's Heathrow airport for the first time to test how the congested aviation hub handles the superjumbo.
Large crowds turned out Thursday to watch the huge jet land smoothly at the airport, west of London.
Dwarfing other aircraft, the A380 navigated specially-widened taxiways to Pier 6, a $200 million, three-story facility designed to accommodate up to four A380s at a time.
The double-decker plane had flown directly from Berlin, but made detour fly-pasts over the UK factories that helped in its design and construction.
Airports planning to receive the new plane are having to widen runways and make sure that lounges and baggage facilities are capable of handling the large number of passengers using the new jets.
The Airbus, which was carrying ballast rather than passengers, will stay at Heathrow overnight for tests to be conducted before it flies out on Friday.
CNN's Richard Quest, who watched the landing, says the Heathrow landing was a crucial test for the plane because it is the airport that will probably see the most A380 landings.
The four-engine jet made its maiden flight in the skies over France in April 2005 and has since clocked up hundreds of hours in the air, making tours of Asia, Australia and North America -- where it underwent cold weather testing.
But its operational debut has been delayed by technical troubles, pushing back delivery to launch customer Singapore Airlines by six months until late 2006.
The A380 is seen as a commercial gamble for Airbus at a time when the aviation sector is under pressure from spiking fuel prices. The European company hopes the super jet will fend off competition from rival jet maker Boeing.
The superjumbo will have a range of up to 15,000 kilometers (8,000 nautical miles), and customers expect lower costs per seat-mile as compared to a 747-400.
It will seat 555 passengers in first class, business and economy cabins, compared to 416 in a 747 laid out in the same way. An all-economy class A380 could seat 853 passengers compared to 568 for a 747.
The A380 will be most common on long routes linking Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the United States.
Flights to and from Australia are also likely to be a key market. Airports gearing up for the plane include London's Heathrow, New York's John F. Kennedy International, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Frankfurt.
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