The largest and most complex airliner ever built, the Airbus A380, landed safely in Japan on Sunday – way behind schedule. To the dismay of Airbus customers worldwide, the plane is only now completing its final 150 hours of test flights. If all goes well, the plane should be declared officially airworthy by the end of the year and the first A380 will be delivered to Singapore Airlines in October 2007 – 20 months late.

The size and capabilities of the A380 versus the Boeing 747 are impressive. It has a double-decker design, with a wingspan of 261 feet – 50 feet larger than a 747-400. Its maximum seating capacity of 555 trumps the 747 by 31 passengers. It has a maximum range almost 1000 miles greater and has an amazing maximum takeoff weight of 1.2 million pounds vs 875,000 for the 747.

However, with great size comes great complexity. The wings alone contain about 32,000 parts and 23 miles of wiring. Just getting all the pieces together is a monumental international task. 44 U.S. states contribute parts including engines from General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Alliance, landing gear from Goodrich, and cockpit electronics from Honeywell. Germany assembles fuselage sections. The nose section is made in Spain and assembled in Germany. The wings were designed in Wales.

This complexity is endangering the success of the new plane and of Airbus itself. Engineers say the plane’s 500km of wiring is causing the delay in getting the plane to their customers, who have so far ordered 166 jets. The problem for Airbus is that many of these customers are now calling to renegotiate or cancel their deals causing billions in losses. This has led to the resignations of Airbus chief executive Gustav Humbert and A380 program manager Charles Campion. They are also looking at cost-cutting, job losses, and a reconfiguration of processes.

Looks like Airbus set out to transform the world of airtravel and ended up transforming themselves at the same time. I bet the phone is ringing at Boeing.

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