Airbus Barnstorms with Its Huge New A380 Jet The gigantic new Airbus A380 passenger jet debuts in the United States this week, in a promotional tour that belies the fact that U.S. airlines have not rushed to order the plane. The super-jumbo jet has double-deck seating for 555 travelers, but few U.S. orders.
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Airbus Barnstorms with Its Huge New A380 Jet

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Airbus Barnstorms with Its Huge New A380 Jet

Airbus Barnstorms with Its Huge New A380 Jet

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9047662/9047663" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The world's biggest passenger jet is visiting the U.S. this week for the first time. Airbus, the European jet builder, sent two of its colossal A380s to the U.S., one to New York, the other to Los Angeles. The company wants to give airports a chance to make sure they're ready for the new plane. And it also wants to give potential customers and some journalists a look-see.

NPR's Adam Davidson got to fly on that big bird.

ADAM DAVIDSON: Mary Anne Gretchen(ph) was in-charge of the guest list for today's flight. She said she's had a lot of calls.

Ms. MARY ANNE GRETCHEN (Spokeswoman, Airbus): Lots of calls is an understatement of the year. I've never had so many calls and e-mails in a one-week span of time in my life. They all said, hey, I'm your best buddy. I love this plane. Can I come see it? Can I come fly on it?

DAVIDSON: Guy Zuma(ph) got an invite. He's an engineer for JFK Airport.

Are you the only guy from the engineering department gets to fly?

Mr. GUY ZUMA (Engineer, JFK International Airport): I'm the only one that I recognize right now.

DAVIDSON: Were people jealous?

Mr. ZUMA: Yeah, they all wanted to come aboard.

DAVIDSON: Zuma was in-charge of paving at JFK. He's been preparing for the massive A380 since 1998. He's been in charge of widening runways and taxiways to accommodate the big plane. JFK laid six miles of new pavement just for this plane. The airport doesn't have stairs big enough to quite reach the plane's doors.

(Soundbite of airport traffic)

Unidentified Man: Good morning. Big steps.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible) all the way to the back, please.

Unidentified Man: Okay.

DAVIDSON: The plane is massive - there is no question - two stories packed with seats. Nobody sat right away though; everyone walked up the front stairs to the back, then down the rear stairs.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's like a huge boat.

DAVIDSON: Because it's just so long?

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. Exactly.

Davidson: (Unintelligible). Who are you?

Ms. VALENE SAINT PATEK(ph) (Travel Agent, American Express): Valene Saint Patek from American Express.

DAVIDSON: She's a travel agent with American Express, flying with her co-worker Joe Ganning(ph). Patek absolutely loves the plane, Ganning, not as much.

Ms. PATEK: It's just the comfort, the general sense of comfort and security. Because it's so spacious and…

Mr. JOE GANNING (Travel Agent, American Express): I don't think - I think back here with a full load it's going to feel kind of cramped. It's going to be (unintelligible). I hate to say it, but that's going to feel like back here.

DAVIDSON: Now, I don't want to sew discontent, but I get the feeling you're more excited than he is?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PATEK: I'm thinking leisure. He's thinking business travel, which is a very different world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GANNING: The business traveler, you know how we think? We don't want to take 25 minutes to get off a plane when it lands. You know, I want to get off the plane in two minutes.

Unidentified Man #3: We would like to take the opportunity to welcome you here on this very special flight from New York and to New York…

DAVIDSON: The plane is to fly for an hour and a half or so, from JFK Airport in New York out over the Atlantic and back. Sitting in the seats, there are some differences from their planes. The cabin certainly is spacious. The ceiling seems quite high up. The luggage bins are massive. The entertainment system is all digital: on-demand movies, music and TV. There's even a feed from a camera in the nose and tail of the plane so you can see in real-time exactly what the pilot sees.

It is very cool to see the plane taxiing and then taking off. As we taxi to the runway there are clumps of JFK workers - baggage handlers, fuel loaders - just standing and staring at the plane. And taking off you feel more power than any other plane I've ever ridden in, more than a sports car. It really pushes you forward. But however impressive this plane is, no North American airliner has bought it. And Airbus needs them too. This is a $300 million plane. It's already two years behind its production schedule. It's more than $6 billion in debt. And none of the U.S. airline executives on board today said they plan to buy an A380 anytime soon.

Adam Davidson, NPR News, New York.

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