In its first long-haul test flight outside Europe on Friday, the double-decker super jumbo touched down shortly after 10am. (0200GMT) after completing a 13-hour flight covering 13,500km (8389 miles) from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, southwest France.

 

The great white jet, as tall as a seven-storey building and stretching about three-quarters of the length of a soccer field, taxied down the runway amid tight security as hundreds of excited travellers and airport staff looked on.

 

"Airbus is delighted that the A380 completed its first landing in Singapore to mark the start of a successful tour of Asia-Pacific over the next week," Airbus spokesman Anthony Phillips told the Associated Press.

 

The A380 prototype was originally due to arrive in Singapore on Tuesday - the first stop of an Asian tour that includes Australia and Malaysia - but Airbus postponed the trip to replace two of the plane's four engines.

 

Airbus is already running behind schedule in the A380 delivery for some Asian airlines, so the additional delay is an embarrassment for the European jet-maker as it tries to make a splash in Asia and entice more buyers.

 

Seven carriers in the region have ordered 49 A380s, accounting for 31% of 159 firm orders so far for the super jumbo, which has a list price of $292 million (243 million euros).

 

Singapore Airline will be the first carrier to operate the plane; but it has criticised Airbus for deferring the delivery of the first of 10 A380s by eight months to November 2006.

 

Australian carrier Qantas, which has ordered 12, and Malaysian Airlines, ordering six planes, too, are unhappy with the delay and believed to be seeking compensation.

 

Air travel boom

 

Other A380 customers in the region are Thai Airways, Korean Air, China Southern Airlines and India's Kingfisher Airlines.

 

Singapore Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong is due to tour the jet on Friday at Changi Airport, which has upgraded both its terminals to accommodate the A380.

 

The maiden Asia flight had been
delayed since Tuesday

With air travel expected to boom in the next 20 years, Airbus said the A380 - designed to carry 555 passengers, but can be stretched to accommodate 800 - will help to ease airport congestion at major passenger hubs.

 

By 2006, it said 20 airports would be ready for the A380 and they include Singapore, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Paris, Dubai and New York. By 2008, 38 airports will be ready and 60 by 2010, it said in a statement.

 

The A380 leaves later on Friday for Australia - with stops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne - for Qantas' 85th birthday celebrations. It heads to Malaysia on 17 November.

 

Market rivalry

 

Airbus is hoping the A380 will help it maintain its edge over US rival Boeing Co, whose aircraft deliveries are likely to fall behind Airbus for the third straight year.

 

Boeing expects to deliver 290 airplanes this year, while Airbus expects to deliver 370.

 

Airbus views Asia as a key market for the jet. By 2023, the company predicts the world's major airlines will need 1250 very large, fuel-efficient aircraft like the A380 to cater to rapid growth in inter-continental travel.

 

It forecasts Asia-Pacific will account for 62% of world demand, or 774 aircraft. European carriers will need 20% of the colossal jets to meet travel growth to Asia, with North America and the Middle East taking 17%  or 215 aircraft between them.

 

China and India are key growth markets, Airbus says, noting that current A380 customers have made plans that will result in 130 weekly A380 flights to China alone by 2010.