A second Airbus A380 took off on its maiden flight today, stepping up the "superjumbo" flight test program a year before the world's largest passenger plane is due to enter service.

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PARIS – A second Airbus A380 took off on its maiden flight today, stepping up the “superjumbo” flight test program a year before the world’s largest passenger plane is due to enter service.

Almost six months after the first A380 test flight, which drew tens of thousands of spectators, the second plane took off from Toulouse, southern France, in light rain.

Fitted out with heavy test instrumentation, the second A380 will test its four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines as well as systems and materials. Three more test planes will later join the program, evaluating cabin comfort, noise levels and the plane’s alternative Engine Alliance GP7200 engines.

Airbus so far has 159 orders for the A380 from 16 customers, but launch customer Singapore Airlines Ltd. and some others have expressed frustration at program delays. Singapore, which had initially been scheduled to take delivery in March, is now set to receive its planes beginning in “late 2006,” Airbus said today.

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With a list price of $292 million, Airbus says its A380 passenger version will fly 555 people seated in a three-class configuration over 5,600 nautical miles.