Redefining Air Travel

An officer walks by Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus early Tuesday, April 17, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va., after setting up a perimeter line. A gunman massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech in the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history Monday, cutting down his victims in two attacks before turning the gun on himself. (AP Photo/Casey Templeton)
AP Photo/Casey Templeton
Inside a hangar in the south of France lurks a concept that may redefine air travel. A very large concept: the Airbus A-380, a gigantic double-decker jet that will dwarf all other passenger planes, CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr reports.

Airbus Executive Vice President John Leahy predicted, "This will be the cruise ship of the skies. If you're not going upstairs to the business class, perhaps you are going to be in the first class area or stop for a drink in the bar."

It's a practiced sales pitch, aimed at airlines and their first class passengers who are willing to pay for luxury like sleeper seats, meetings areas, perhaps below deck family quarters or even a casino.

Take a Tour
Click here to take a video tour of the new Airbus A-380.
Leahy said prospective customers look at this new jumbo-jet and say "Wow," and that's the exact reaction Airbus wants because that translates into sales.

A half dozen of the world's major airlines have already ordered 60 of the monster jets, at more than $200 million apiece.

That's enough for Airbus to begin building the double-decker capable of carrying from 550 to 800 passengers. Most of them will, of course, ride in coach — a section of the plane Airbus hasn't completed.

The A-380 is a direct challenge to Boeing's 747 — the original wide-body first flown 30 years ago. Airbus promises its super-jumbo will be able to carry more passengers greater distances at lower costs.

Leahy said Airbus can put all this luxury in a package and it costs less per mile to fly the plane because of new technology. He said it consumes less fuel and emits less emissions.

Robert Ditchey, who has helped manage several U-S airlines, sees big problems with the super-jumbo. Airports will have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to widen taxiways and renovate gates, and what about the instant crowds that will de-plane?

"We are going to have to figure out a way to handle all these people, and it is not just at the terminal itself; it is at the entryways to the terminal, the roads, the freeways what have you," answerd Ditchey.

John Leahy, though, has too much selling to do to worry. Airbus hopes to build 1,500 super-jumbos over the next 20 years and is betting nearly $11 billion on the plane. It's a huge gamble, but then, it's a very large concept.

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