Airbus scrambled to remove egg from its face by smuggling a 300 tonne superjumbo out of Le Bourget for emergency repairs in Toulouse — anxious to show off the plane which was damaged in a collision on Sunday.
The world’s largest passenger jet was damaged when one of the A380’s wingtips collided with a building while taxiing on the eve of the Paris Air Show, embarrassing the European planemaker at the world’s largest aerospace event.
The incident provided an unexpected PR boost to Korean Airlines when Airbus replaced the in-house test aircraft with a just-asssembled A380 in the airline’s light blue livery for the prestigious daily air display at Le Bourget.
The stricken test plane limped out of Le Bourget with its damaged wingtip as dusk fell on Monday, taking off from a commercial runway unseen from industry chalets and well after most of the 140,000 visitors had left for the day, an airport source said.
Experts stressed Sunday’s collision happened in a tight corner of the airfield, which doubles as a business airport and is not officially equipped to handle the largest “category F” aircraft like the 525-seat Airbus double-decker.
Still, the high-profile collision was a PR setback for Airbus as Boeing showed off its rival 747-8 stretch jumbo at the air show and stacked up 17 new orders worth over US$3 billion.
Boeing and Airbus disagree on the size of the market for their largest jets over 400 seats — Boeing forecasts 820 deliveries in the 747 and A380 category over the next 20 years; Airbus expects more than double that.
Airbus had been hoping to use the flying displays to kickstart a lavish new marketing campaign for the A380 with a slogan painted on its belly, which would be revealed as the airplane makes a steep turn on take-off during the display.
PR campaigns make little impact on the rough and tumble competition and dealmaking at air shows but can influence the tastes of passengers which the planemakers hope will affect the way airlines compose their fleets.
Airbus officials said that if all went well the test plane could stage a comeback on Wednesday. The air show runs until June 26.