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Tue 6 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

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Waiting game

American rally driver Mario Andretti once said waiting was a pointless exercise that only makes you older.

American rally driver Mario Andretti once said waiting was a pointless exercise that only makes you older. It's an apt statement considering he spent his career racing rivals to the finish line.

But Andretti's comments could also apply to a recent aviation landmark. On October 25, Singapore Airlines launched the first commercial A380 flight following lengthy production delays. The event was supposed to take place months ago, with aircraft manufacturer Airbus responsible for the hold-up.

The Asian airlines' executives will be relieved after launching the first flight between Singapore and Sydney, but outsiders may question whether it was worth the wait. The answer for those who secured one of 455 seats on the inaugural flight appears to be yes. During the countdown to the A380 launch, Singapore Airlines reported huge demand after auctioning tickets on internet market ebay.

The flight itself further emphasised the divide between the wealthy and those with less financial muscle, according to one British journalist. Economy travellers were crammed into seats at the back of the double-decker plane. Meanwhile, more affluent passengers were treated to gourmet meals and champagne in the 12 first class ‘suites'.

Not that anyone was surprised. Airliners will always offer varying degrees of service depending on the travellers' budget. The A380 is no exception with the class divide still in place, particularly in the Middle East. Indeed, Emirates will reportedly fit the A380 with luxury first-class suites that replicate the Orient Express style décor on its 777s. So far, the Dubai-based carrier's management has refused to discuss its plans. Nevertheless, it's widely believed the A380 will service Emirates' routes from Dubai to London and New York.

Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways also have A380s on order, confirming the region's demand for the world's biggest aircraft. According to airline executives, passengers in the Middle East are equally enthused. The question is why? The engineers deserve praise for creating a 468 ton aircraft that's wider than a football pitch and taller than five double-decker buses. But the aircraft is nothing more than a big plane. While it can carry additional passengers, offer more comfort than other models and reach maximum speeds of 7100 nautical miles, it is still just an oversized carrier.

Middle East airline executives hoping to add the A380 to their respective fleets would clearly disagree. But with the first commercial flight still fresh in the memory, the super-jumbo remains untested. The coming years will show whether the aircraft flies regularly without incident. In the meantime, aviation figures in this region may wish to reserve judgement before jumping on the bandwagon.

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