Airbus in fear of full

emergency test

BY BEN WEBSTER, TRANSPORT CORRESPONDENT

AIRBUS is planning to introduce the world’s largest passenger plane, carrying up to 1,000 passengers, without
conducting a full evacuation test. The company said yesterday that it was afraid that people could be permanently
injured in the exercise.
At least 200 passengers will sit 30ft above ground on the highest of the three decks on a full Airbus A380. They
would have to jump down an inflatable slide in an emergency.

A fifth of the company, which is based in Toulouse, France, is owned by Britain’s BAE Systems. Airbus fears that
any injuries in a full evacuation test would be exploited by Boeing, its rival, and could undermine the whole project.
Instead, it is planning to conduct tests involving only a fraction of the total number of passengers.

Scientists will then use mathematical models in an attempt to demonstrate to the safety authorities — Britain’s Civil
Aviation Authority and America’s Federal Aviation Administration — that the plane is safe.

Derek Davies, the A380 marketing director, said: “If you subject more than 800 people to an evacuation test and
someone comes off the bottom of the slide and someone else hits them from behind, you have to ask why we have
maimed somebody. There will be questions asked if someone is left a paraplegic.”

A spokesman for the CAA said it was hoped that an evacuation simulator at Cranfield University would reduce the
need for live tests. While at present a full evacuation test was required for all new aircraft, the simulator could be
used by Airbus “to do a lot of the research on the safety of extremely large aircraft”. He added: “Obviously if you
do full evacuations, you do run the risk of injuring people. In future there could well be a lot of work done with
computer scenarios.”

People had been injured in previous tests and insurance companies now demanded that anyone taking part undergo
a medical examination.

Airbus is confident authorities will agree to a partial test. Boeing carried out full evacuation tests on its 747s and
Mr Davies, speaking at the Paris Air Show, said that Airbus was concerned that the American company might
exploit any safety issues surrounding the A380 to protect the market share of its own 400-seat 747, which is
currently the world’s biggest passenger plane.

“I do not wish to appear paranoid, but the Americans are quite capable of using their expertise commercially to
attack us,” Mr Davies said.

Early versions of the A380, which will begin flight tests in 2004 and enter service in 2006, will have 550 to 600
seats. Later stretch models will accommodate up to 1,000 people. The wings will be built in Britain, which is
contributing £500 million of the £7.5 billion development costs in the form of a soft loan from the Government.

Under Airbus’s existing evacuation plan, 140 passengers a minute would jump out of emergency doors down 30ft
slides, with people falling side by side in two lanes. However, Edward Galea, of Greenwich University, an authority
on passenger behaviour in evacuations, has identified a small increase in “exit hesitation time” in early trials based
on the A380 upper deck. According to Professor Galea, people are intimidated by the height of the fall, almost
double that from the single deck of Airbus’s largest existing plane.

Mr Davies said people would be unable to hesitate for long because of the force of all those behind wanting to get
out.

Airbus has signed deals with eight airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, for 62 A380s. The company hopes for another
40 sales this year and believes there could be 1,500 flying worldwide by 2020. The first customers received major
discounts on the basic price of £160 million for each aircraft.

The A380 is designed to ease congestion at overstretched airports, in particular Heathrow.