The ultra-long range A340-500, Airbus' longest range airliner to date, took off on its maiden flight today at 10:25 hours local time (09:25 GMT) from the Blagnac international airport in Toulouse, France.

The maiden flight was captained by Airbus Chief Test Pilot Jacques Rosay and co-piloted by Experimental Test Pilot Richard Monnoyer. The crew was comprised of flight test engineers Didier Ronceray and Sylvie Loisel-Labaste - the first woman crew member for a maiden flight at Airbus - and test flight engineer Bruno Bigand. The A340-500 is powered by four Trent 500 engines from Rolls-Royce.

The A340-500 took off at a weight of 280 tonnes (617,290 lbs), including around 30.5 tonnes (67,240 lbs) of flight test instrumentation to record the thousands of parameters necessary for a thorough analysis of the aircraft's in-flight performance. This maiden voyage marks the beginning of a comprehensive flight test campaign involving two A340-500s in 340 flight hours, which will culminate in certification and entry into airline service in the fourth quarter of 2002.

Airbus was the first to respond to airline interest in ultra-long range flights, thus permitting such distant city pairs as Los Angeles and Singapore to enjoy non-stop service for the first time. With the A340-500 entering airline service this year, passengers will have experienced the refinement and low noise levels of this new ultra-long range aircraft for more than three years before any competitive offering is available.

The ultra-long range A340-500 was launched in December 1997 alongside its sister aircraft, the high capacity A340-600. Designed in close collaboration with airlines, these two airliners further extend the attraction of the market-leading A330/A340 Family, taking advantage of the latest proven technologies to deliver the ultimate in long range air travel. The A340-500/-600 remain clear leaders in their category, with 56 per cent of the market at the end of 2001. Both new versions are powered by Trent 500 engines from Rolls-Royce.

A leading aircraft manufacturer with the most modern and comprehensive product line on the market, Airbus is a global company with design and manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, the UK and Spain as well as subsidiaries in the U.S., China and Japan. Headquartered in Toulouse, France, Airbus is a joint EADS Company with BAE SYSTEMS.