AFTER repeated delays, Airbus delivered its first A380 superjumbo jet to Singapore Airlines (SIA), its first airline customer on Monday - two years late and more than 15 years after its maker first unveiled plans for the world's largest passenger plane that would revolutionise air travel.
SIA received the 'keys' to the very first A380 - a double-decker jet that is as long as a soccer pitch, with a tail seven storeys high - in a glitzy media event at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France.
Some 500 guests and journalists were treated to a two-minute long light and sound show that preceded the grand unveil.
Sixteen airlines have so far ordered 189 of the giant birds that can each carry more than 500 passengers in a three-class configuration.
SIA, which has signed for 19 of the superjumbos, is fitting its aircraft with just 471 seats - 12 luxury suites on the main deck, 60 in business class on the upper deck and 399 in economy class seats on both decks.
Monday's handover was followed by the much-anticipated unveiling of the cabin products that attracted a chorus of wows, especially the front-end suites that offer a beyond first-class experience.
Each suite comes with a seat and a separate bed which is stowed against the cabin wall when not in use.
Travellers in business and economy class will get more comfort too, with the widest seats and biggest personal entertainment screens the sky has to offer.
The extra luxury comes at a price. At the top end, travellers can expect to pay over 20 per cent more although the increases will be more moderate for the economy class.
SIA CEO Chew Choon Seng told the Singapore media ahead of the delivery: 'Where the amount of cabin space given to each passenger has increased, we will of course also have to recover our costs.'
The A380's inaugural commercial flight has been set for Oct 25 from Singapore to Sydney. SIA has auctioned all seats on the first flight on eBay, raising about US$1.25 million for charity. It will fly later to London and Tokyo.
The entry of the superjumbo will help ease capacity constraints that the industry has faced because of the delivery delay and a buoyant air travel business.
Despite the delays, SIA has been impressed with the technological marvel and intends to make the A380 the 'backbone of its long-haul operations' said Mr Chew.
'The A-380 is the first all-new big aircraft design in more than 35 years and the application of the latest technologies, of the advancements in aerodynamics, of everything else that goes into modern aircraft design has great appeal for SIA.'
Airbus has sold airlines on the A380's efficiency, boasting it consumes 12 per cent less fuel than the B-747 and costs 15 per cent less to operate.
The jet runs on less than 3 litres of fuel per passenger over 100km - less than a hybrid car - while its take-off noise level is half that of the B-747.
Mr Chew said: 'From what i have seen and what my colleague tell me, I think the A-380 has been well worth waiting for...This is a proud moment, a happy occasion for SIA and we are privileged to have the opportunity to help write a new chapter in aviation history.'
Airbus started building the A-380 in the early 1990s, banking on a massive growth in air traffic between major hubs.
The aircraft has three floors, connected by stairs in the front and rear.
Passengers will be seated on the two top decks, while the bottom deck carries cargo.
As well as unprecedented space, arch-rival Boeing, meanwhile, has a very different idea of the future, predicting that passengers will prefer to fly directly to their destinations, rather than via capital cities, and plans a new generation of smaller long-range aircraft.