Tech Ride

TOULOUSE, France, Nov 9, 2006 (AFP) – As rain clouds gather over European aircraft maker Airbus, the giant plane at the root of its problems is set to jet off on for a tour of the Asia region next Monday for a final round of technical tests. EADS, or the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, acknowledged it had to take “drastic measures” to keep up with Boeing and French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin vowed to visit Airbus headquarters next week to “find solutions” to the company’s woes. The A380 superjumbo, set to be the biggest passenger plane in the world when it enters service next year, is to make seven stops in Asia in addition to visits to Australia, South Africa and Canada during a 17-day test mission around the globe.

On-board engineers and certified test pilots will put the plane through its paces under simulated commercial conditions, including test landings at key airports, refueling practices and maintenance work.

The latest flights, which are expected to be the last major tests before approval from regulators in December, come at a difficult time for Airbus amid a hailstorm of bad publicity for its star project.

On Tuesday, US mail group FedEx announced it had cancelled an order for 10 cargo versions of