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Not just another jumbo jet

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Airbus A380
An Airbus A380 in flight.
Photo courtesy of Airbus

Everything about the A380 is about trying to be bigger and better.

The A380 is apparently the second biggest plane ever built, topped only by a six-engine Russian cargo plane.  

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The A380 measures about 300 feet wing tip to wing tip -- and nose to tail. The tail happens to be 80 feet tall. 

Airlines that have ordered the plane have generally configured it to carry about 500 passengers. But the jet can haul about 830 passengers, if it's completely converted to economy class.

Airbus boasts the double-decker jet is cleaner, quieter and more fuel efficient than competing planes. The European aircraft manufacturer claims the plane will be unmatched when it comes to moving lots of people great distances on international trips. 

"For traffic between world hubs, you really cannot compete against the A380s," said Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas. "For those airlines that want to fly over the pole and go non-stop into the Pacific Rim, they're going to have fly this airplane."

View from the seats
Passengers can view the plane's takeoff and landing on the screen in the cabin.
MPR Photo/Martin Moylan

McArtor says the plane can slash a carrier's  fuel bill for a trip. With oil bumping up against $100 a barrel, that's a big selling point.

"You got about a 20 percent seat-mile cost advantage with the A380," he said. "Airlines will be able to fly the same number of people at a substantial savings to themselves. Hopefully, they'll pass it on to you and me."

Airlines have been having some fun configuring the the plane's spacious interior. A Saudi Arabian prince is buying an  A380, intending to make it into a flying palace. And McArtor notes one airline offers sleeping cabins on its A380 jet.

"Singapore has introduced their first-class Singapore suites, which is kind of like a Pullman area," he said. "You got a seat and bed. And, in fact, the two center suites, you can remove the partition and you can actually have a double suite."

You don't feel cooped up. ... It's huge.

Seating on A380s is far better than what you'll find on most planes. Economy class seats offer passengers 20 percent more room than usual. And first-class passengers get extra-long reclining seats, a desk  -- and a small guest seat for visitors.  

Northwest frequent flier Gerry Williams is six feet tall and couldn't stretch out enough to reach the end of his first-class seating area,

"It's an impressive aircraft, a lot of head room," he said. "You don't feel cooped up, like you do in some of the little funnels you have to enter and fly across the country. It has a lot to offer in an aircraft. It's huge."

The plane comes with a lot of bells and whistles. They include an on-demand entertainment system. And external cameras that allow passengers to view the plane from several angles as it's taking off, landing or cruising. 

Bar service
Bartenders serve champagne to passengers on the Airbus flight.
MPR Photo/Martin Moylan

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said he was quite impressed with the A380 and said the plane might join Northwest's fleet. Someday. 

"It's a fantastic airplane and a great advancement of technology," he said. "It's clearly an airplane with a lot of customer comfort features. We haven't ordered it . But we're always having ongoing discussions with Airbus. But you never know what the future might  hold."

Steenland said the A380 could be a good fit for Northwest's service to and from Tokyo. Tokyo generates enough passenger traffic to consistently fill an Airbus A380. But the A380 is a pricey plane. The list price is about $320 million. But Airbus will bargain on the price. 

Airbus has 165 orders for the A380. But at this point, no U.S. airline has an order in for the plane. 

Lately, Northwest has been ordering Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A330 jets for its international service. Those fuel-efficient planes carry about 220 or 300 passengers. Northwest has some 20 Boeing 747 jets that it uses on international routes. Those planes seat 350 to 400 passengers.