The white prototype, one of four that will make test flights later this year, will remain in the open on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning inside the hangar at Blagnac near the city of Toulouse.

  

The plane, designed by the European consortium Airbus, will be officially unveiled on 18 January at Blagnac about two months before its maiden flight, Airbus executives have said.

  

The A380 is set to break a 30-year monopoly that US aircraft-maker Boeing has held in the market for big passenger airplanes with its 747 jumbo.

  

French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and European Commission resident Jose Manuel Barroso were expected to attend the unveiling. 

 

Representatives of all airlines that have ordered the A380, which is set to become the world's biggest commercial airliner, carrying more than 550 passengers, were also on the guest list.

 

Trans-Atlantic battle

 

Airbus is 80% owned by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, and the rest of aircraft-maker's capital is owned by British defence contractor BAE Systems.

  

Airbus and Boeing are currently locked in a bitter dispute. Boeing contends that Airbus benefits from government subsidies that violate international trade rules.

  

The European Union, for its part, maintains that Boeing has received illegal subsidies in the form of major contracts from US defence and space agencies.