A new variant of the successful A340-500/600 Family took to the skies today during a four and half hour maiden flight over Toulouse as part of 6 month certification campaign.

The new A340-500/600 will offer customers greater range and a higher maximum payload compared to its nearest competitor. It is equipped with the latest development of the Rolls-Royce Trent 500 engines and benefits from technology developed for the A380, including new manufacturing techniques such as laser beam welding.

Typically seating 380 passengers in three class comfort, the new 380-tonne long-range A340-600 will be able to travel up to 7,900 nm (14,600 km) carrying the same number of passengers 250nm farther. The first aircraft of this type will be delivered to Qatar Airways in the summer 2006. The A340-600 has already attracted interest from Middle East-based airlines in particular Qatar, Emirates and Etihad, as well as Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic in Europe. Middle Eastern airlines are keen to deploy this longer range aircraft from theirGulf hubs to North America.

Airbus' president and CEO Gustav Humbert, said: "This new version of our already successful A340-600 will fly farther and longer than its immediate competitor while maintaining the highest degree of passenger comfort. Airlines will also benefit from improved operating costs."

The A340 Family has the quietest cabin in the sky and accommodates all passengers in superior comfort. Indeed, First Class passengers enjoy a luxurious four-abreast arrangement, those in Business Class are assured either an aisle or window seat while Economy Class passengers are usually seated eight-across ensuring that no passenger is ever more than a seat away from an aisle.

Already 141 A340-500/-600 Family aircraft have been sold to 14 customers. The A340-600 entered into service in 2002 and complement to the ultra long range A340-500 and the A340-300 Enhanced. Currently more than 680 A330/A340/A350 Family aircraft are in operation with almost 80 operators and there are more than 270 aircraft in Airbus' substantial backlog of orders.

Airbus is an EADS joint company with BAE Systems.