| The first prototype of the Superjumbo in France. (AFP)
London, Jan. 16: Imagine more than 500 Indians packed into one aircraft taking off from an enlarged Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Calcutta or from Mumbai or Delhi. That may happen one day and almost certainly will happen ' and thereby ease the problem of passengers with confirmed seats being offloaded.
The monster of the skies, the 555-seater Airbus A380 Superjumbo, will be shown off at its headquarters in Toulouse in southern France on Tuesday.
There to see and marvel at the 'world's biggest passenger aircraft' ' with a third more seats than the jumbo ' will be 5,000 top executives and dignitaries, among them British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But significantly for India, Richard Branson will also be present.
The ambitious chairman of Virgin Atlantic, who has already ordered six of the new planes for 2008 with an option to buy six more, has said he sees no reason why it should not operate on routes to India.
He has already been allocated 10 flights a week to India from Heathrow ' seven to Delhi and three to Mumbai. And he is looking for more. Together, British Airways, Virgin and British Midland will soon operate 40 flights a week to India.
The Superjumbo will be big enough to incorporate bars, shops, gyms and casinos. With his flair for public relations stunts, Branson has said he might well be tempted to put the odd bedroom or two on board for honeymooning couples.
Airbus, the A380's maker, is likely to produce a stretched version of the plane later this decade to take up to 650 passengers. A freighter version is also planned.
None of this is pie in the sky. The future is here.
Powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, the A380 will operate its first test flight before the end of March. The first state to take delivery of the biggest and the best ' and Airbus has taken 149 firm orders already ' will be little Singapore in spring 2006.
The British have an interest in the product because BAE Systems, who are building the 260-foot-wide wings 'they are 50 feet wider than that on the Boeing 747-44 jumbo ' has a 20 per cent stake in the aircraft company.
An Airbus spokesman said today: 'The interest in this plane worldwide is enormous. Airlines who are buying it will make it the flagship of their fleet.'
One end of the route to India will soon be able to handle the Superjumbo. Heathrow has been busy for many months making ' 450 million modifications to cater for the A380.
The British Airports Authority predicts that by 2016, the A380 could account for one in every eight flights at Heathrow. This would enable about 10 million more passengers to fly in and out of Heathrow every year with no increase in the number of flights.
Aircraft stands at Heathrow are being modified so passengers can easily gain access to the A380's main and upper decks. Work is under way to enable the A380 to use Terminal 3 and Terminal 4 at Heathrow as well as Terminal 5, which is under construction and will be completed in 2008.
Along with Virgin, other airlines planning to operate the A380 in and out of Heathrow include Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Emirates and Thai Airways International. Airbus is confident British Airways will also be persuaded.
Air-India and Indian Airlines are buying nearly 70 planes, but the A380 is not in their sight.
Unlike its US plane-making rival Boeing, Airbus believes there will be a large demand for big aircraft and that airports and airlines will best solve the difficulty of coping with a 5 per cent annual growth in passenger numbers by using giant, but still environment-friendly, planes.
Airbus boasts that, though its A380 is bigger and heavier than a Boeing 747, it needs less distance to take off and land and makes half the noise of the jumbo jet.