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After Delays, Airbus Superjumbo Jet Lands

It's two years late but Airbus has finally delivered the first A380 superjumbo jet.

After repeated and embarrassing delays, the European plane maker delivered the first superjumbo jet on Monday - a critical step for Airbus in its efforts to rebound from a string of troubles.

Singapore Airlines took delivery of the double-decker jet - the world's largest passenger plane - almost two years late, in a glitzy handover ceremony which included a sound and light show, speeches and an exchange of gifts.

President and CEO Thomas Enders welcomed an audience in Toulouse for the handover ceremony.

During his speech, he dismissed suggestions that Airbus was pursuing the wrong strategy by producing the superjumbo in a market that's likely to be interested in smaller planes and point-to-point routes in the future.

Airbus has gone though five CEOs as multiple delays in the A380 program resulted in massive write-offs and a restructuring plan that foresees 10,000 job cuts over four years, not to mention billions of euros in lost profit.

Such delays have hurt more than just profits: Airbus' reputation has suffered, and U.S. rival Boeing Company grabbed the top sales spot in 2006.

But Boeing itself announced this week a six-month delay to its hot-selling 787 Dreamliner, leaving the double-decker A380 (at least temporarily) to claim the limelight.

Morale at Airbus has also been damaged by accusations that senior managers profited from knowledge about the A380's problems to cash in on share options.

A preliminary report by the French Financial Markets Authority pointed to "massive insider trading" at European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, Airbus' parent company.

Attended by about 500 guests, the handover ceremony was, however, much more low-key than the triumphal 2005 ceremony when the A380 was unveiled.

Then, the 10,000-strong audience included French, German and British leaders who admired the plane's exterior but weren't allowed inside, where problems lurked.

Government officials, some of whom have come under the spotlight in the insider trading probe, were absent from Monday's event.

Singapore fitted its jet with 471 seats configured in three classes: 12 luxury suites on the main deck, 60 business class seats on the upper deck, and 399 economy class seats on both decks.

The plane will replace one of three Boeing 747-400 jets already serving the Sydney-Singapore route.

The A380's inaugural commercial flight has been set for October 25 from Singapore to Sydney.

Singapore Airlines has auctioned all seats on the first flight on eBay, raising about $1.25 million dollars for charity.

Sixteen customers, including British Airways, have booked 189 orders or made firm commitments, and John Leahy, Airbus' chief salesman says that number may exceed 200 by the end of the year.

Keith Stonestreet, product marketing director for the A380, said Airbus is targeting the seven airlines flying the Boeing 747, currently the biggest passenger plane, that haven't booked orders for the Airbus superjumbo.

These include Northwest Airlines, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways.

The A380 includes glamorous features such as a cocktail bar, complete with water fountain and a duty-free lounge. Some airlines will offer passengers the chance to freshen up with a shower.

The A380 represents Airbus' bet on future demand for long-haul travel between increasingly congested hub airports worldwide.

Boeing argues passengers want point-to-point journeys between smaller airports and is targeting the more lucrative market for midsized jets.

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