Airbus was last night cautiously optimistic that it has passed a major certification hurdle for the A380 after successfully evacuating at least 852 passengers and 20 Lufthansa crew from the aircraft in comfortably under the 90s required by regulators.

Airbus staff involved in the programme told Flight yesterday, after I had been one of the passengers taking part, that they believed all the occupants had been evacuated in 75-80s.

Today Airbus chief operational officer and the head of the A380 programme Charles Champion said: "Although the final number as confirmed by the[European Aviation Safety] Agency EASA will only be known in a few days, we are very happy with this result."

Observers from EASA and US Federal Aviation Administration will now study internal and external infrared video of the process before confirming their judgment today or tomorrow, but EASA certification director Norbert Lohl said last night he thought it would be "positive".

A380 economy seats W445

Slight uncertainty surrounds the precise number of passengers who will be counted and the time taken. Airbus says that a man taken from the scene by stretcher afterwards had broken a leg while exiting and it is also unclear whether one woman may have left the aircraft minutes before the evacuation. Another 32 passengers suffered minor injuries.

In any case, the result exceeds both Airbus's requirement and expectation. It needed to demonstrate a figure of 650 passengers in 90s to allow an entry into service with a comfortable margin, and had merely said it was "optimistic" of exceeding 750.

Within moments of the end of the test at the A380 manufacturing facility in Hamburg however, programme staff were punching the air and hugging each other in delight as it became apparent how quickly it had been completed.

Nohl of EASA, for which the certification process is also a major challenge, said: "EASA and Airbus set up the test programme together and we are content.

"We will still examine the results and the details over the next couple of days. There will be video coverage and questionnaires to the participants. Tomorrow or the day after there will be a result but we think it will be a positive result," he said last night.

"This is a major milestone for EASA and the certification which we intend to complete by the end of 2006.

"The programme was prepared in very, very close co-operation with the FAA. The result today will also be accepted by the FAA."

The apparent immediate success of the test was greeted by applause and cheers also from the hundreds of volunteers - half of whom were Airbus employees and the other half members of local gyms - who spent a long day at the Hamburg site being processed and eventually sitting on the aircraft for around an hour before the simulated emergency itself.


Read the first-hand experiences of Flight Group Editor Kieran Daly, the only member of the media allowed to take part in the Airbus A380 evacuation trials in Hamburg.

Source: Flight International