Airbus Superjumbo Jet Takes Off

The Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane, takes off successfully on its maiden flight at Blagnac near Toulouse, southwestern France, Wednesday April 27, 2005. The 555-seat superjumbo is expected to enter service in mid-2006. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) AP

The world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, completed its maiden flight Wednesday, a milestone for aviation and in the European aircraft maker's battle with American rival Boeing Co.

The giant plane landed successfully to applause at 2:22 p.m (8:22 a.m. EDT) after a flight of nearly four hours. About 30,000 spectators watched the behemoth take off and touch down, 101 years after the Wright brothers achieved the first controlled, sustained flight.

The plane was carrying a crew of six and 22 tons of on-board test instruments.

"The takeoff went perfectly," Alain Garcia, an Airbus engineering executive, said on LCI television.

The flight took place at the airport in Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse in southwest France. It was beaming back real-time measurements to Airbus headquarters at Blagnac.

There were cheers and applause as the white jet with a blue tail — its engines surprisingly quiet — picked up speed down the runway and lifted smoothly into the blue skies. Fire trucks were stationed alongside the runway as a precaution.

Airbus chief test pilot Jacques Rosay, flight captain Claude Lelaie and four crew members — who all wore orange flight suits — were taking no chances. Airbus had said they would be wearing parachutes during the first flight, in accordance with company policy. A handrail leads from the cockpit to an escape door that can be jettisoned if the pilots lose control of the plane.

The flight capped 11 years of preparation and $13 billion in spending. Spectators camped out by the airport to be there for what some said was Europe's biggest aviation event since the first flight of the supersonic Concorde in 1969.

The A380, with a catalogue price of $282 million, represents a huge bet by Airbus that international airlines will need bigger aircraft to transport passengers between ever-busier hub airports.

The plane will carry up to 800 passengers, with wider seats in coach class and unrivalled air luxury in first class, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe. Facilities on board include a number of bars and a library. Airlines can also opt for fewer seats and more luxury, including a casino and a gym. There are even plans for prison cells for rowdy passengers.

But some analysts say signs of a boom in the market for smaller wide-body planes, such as Boeing's long-range 787 "Dreamliner," show that Airbus was wrong to focus so much time and money on its superjumbo.