A milestone in aviation history is expected to be made today as European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industries is set to carry out the maiden test flight of its A380 double decker “super-jumbo” airliner. More than 50,000 people are expected to be on hand to watch and cheer as the world's largest passenger jet rolls down the runway and climbs into the skies above the southern French town of Toulouse. Many more will be watching the live television coverage.
There won’t be many cheering voices in the United States, however.
Competition between Airbus and U.S. aviation giant Boeing has always been intense, even feverish at times. The A380 has become not only a symbol of the latest battle between two competing aircraft builders, and high capacity long-haul aircraft versus smaller capacity short-haul aircraft, but of the growing political and cultural war between America and Europe.
The growing animosity spreading across the Atlantic Ocean goes well beyond a clash of words between presidents Bush and Chirac over the war in Iraq, Bush’s refusal to answer Chirac’s telephone calls, or the attempted renaming of French Fries to Freedom Fries by a small group of childish Fox News-watching Americans.
The production of the A380 has intensified a trade row between the US and Europe over government subsidies paid to the aircraft industry. The European Union and the United States have accused each other of helping Airbus and Boeing with illegal government subsidies. Airbus receives support from the European countries where its various consortium members are headquartered. Boeing receives financial incentives from the states of Washington and Kansas, where it’s two major production facilities are located (plus billions of dollars through its countless U.S. defense contracts). Talks broke down earlier this month and it looks as if both sides are heading for a showdown at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
As for me, a simple aviation enthusiast who automatically looks skyward in response to the sound of ANY type of aircraft engine, I will be eagerly keeping my eyes peeled for this latest of mankind’s technological achievements.