Airbus says A380 flight testing is due to kick off early next year with the first of four development aircraft that will undergo a three-phase programme, writes Max Kingsley-Jones.

The first flying aircraft, MSN001, is due to reach the "power-on" milestone next month, by which time structural assembly of the second flight-test aircraft - MSN004 - should be under way. MSN001 will fly early next year - Airbus hopes by February - with MSN004 following by the end of March.

These two aircraft will be equipped with extensive flight- test instrumentation and used for airframe and systems development and certification. The next batch - MSN002 and 007 - will be equipped with full interiors for cabin trials, and will join the programme in the third and fourth quarter of next year, respectively.

The first phase of the test programme, lasting around two months, will involve an initial exploration of handling to allow the A380's aerodynamic configuration to be frozen. The next phase, which will take about six months, will run in parallel with structural testing on the static- test airframe and involve the final development and optimisation of the aircraft's systems. The third phase will be dedicated to certification flying.

"MSN002 will perform an early long-range flight programme with non-revenue passengers on board," says Airbus executive vice-president A380 programme Charles Champion. A traditional route-proving effort will be undertaken by MSN007 later in the programme, he adds.

Initial A380s will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines - the lead variant of which is due for certification in the first quarter of 2006 and delivery to Singapore Airlines soon after.

The first of the two General Electric/Pratt & Whitney Engine Alliance GP7200-powered test aircraft (MSN009)  is to due fly in November 2005.

Source: Flight International