Wednesday's flight on the A380 was a contrarian's dream, because much of the aviation world is convinced that the jumbo-sized aircraft is doomed to failure. Airbus will deliver the plane two years behind schedule. Research and development have consumed about $13 billion. Demand so far is limited to just 156 orders from 14 airlines. Not a single U.S. airline has placed an order. Yet the reception at New York's Kennedy International Airport, where 200 passengers including 40 reporters took a one-and-a-half hour demonstration flight Wednesday, was positive, even gleeful. Vehicles driving on the airport perimeter sped up to keep pace. Airport workers took photos. Passengers marveled at the airplane's size, the quiet ride and the chance to be aboard a historic flight. The A380 can carry 555 passengers, although individual carriers will make their own choices on seat numbers and amenities, such as lie-flat seats, bars and showers. It has 310 miles of wiring, 4 million parts and weighed 811,000 pounds at takeoff Wednesday. "It's a remarkable airplane, a phenomenal feat of engineering," said passenger Rakesh Gangwal, co-founder of the Indian carrier Indigo and former CEO of US Airways ( LCC). "You have a lot of skeptics today, because many minds have not yet fathomed how this plane will be used. "It's no different than cruise ships," he said. "When the bigger ships came out, nobody could fathom that you would have thousands of people on a cruise ship. But look at the cruise industry now."
The flight carried 200 passengers, including at least half a dozen executives from airlines that are Airbus customers. Gangwal, for instance, has ordered 100 A320s for Indigo. Also aboard was Dave Barger, president of JetBlue ( JBLU), which will celebrate the arrival of its 100th A320 on Friday. "We want this airplane to be wildly successful," Barger said. "A strong Airbus is good for JetBlue and good for the industry. And I think there is definitely a place for (the A380)." Both Gangwal and Barger compared the A380 to the 747, which was considered far too large to succeed when Boeing ( BA) introduced it with about 366 seats in 1970. Today, more than 1,350 747s have been sold, some seating as many as 500 passengers.