HAMBURG, Germany (AP) -- Deutsche Lufthansa AG on Wednesday took delivery of its first A380 superjumbo, the largest aircraft in the history of civil aviation with a capacity of more than 520 passengers.
The delivery of the euro300 million ($370 million) aircraft comes three years late as European plane maker Airbus has struggled to cope with production delays.
Lufthansa said the first of its 15 A380s will be put in service from June 11 onward, flying from Frankfurt to Tokyo.
It comes at a difficult time for Lufthansa, which is locked in a bitter pay dispute with its pilots, faces a challenging economic environment and has to bear air traffic disruptions due to Iceland\'s continuously spitting volcano.
The airline hopes the plane will boost its seating capacity and to be more cost-efficient compared to the rivaling Boeing 747-400.
"Airbus delivers you today with pride the world\'s most modern and environmental friendly plane," Airbus Chief executive Tom Enders told Lufthansa\'s CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber.
"Here is the newest and best horse in your stable," Enders said as he symbolically handed the plane over at an Airbus production site in Hamburg, where the planes\' interiors have been built.
"The A380 is Lufthansa\'s new flagship," Mayrhuber said. Before boarding the plane for its maiden flight to Frankfurt, he said the A380 was "a new window for the company\'s future."
Before the plane goes into the regular service, it will fly the German football team to the World Cup in South Africa in early June.
Lufthansa is the second European airline to receive an A380, after Air France received its first superjumbo last fall and now operates it between Paris and New York.
The other 27 A380s delivered since October 2007 are flying for Singapore Airlines, Quantas and Emirates. Airbus, a subsidiary of Paris-based European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., says it so far has 202 firm orders from 17 customers for the plane.
Lufthansa has ordered 15 of the hulking planes and expects a total of four to be delivered by the end of the year. Besides the Frankfurt-Tokyo route, Lufthansa says it plans to use the plane for flights to Beijing and Johannesburg.
Its first A380, named after the city of Lufthansa\'s main hub, "Frankfurt am Main," comes with 526 seats. In the upper deck Lufthansa has eight first class an 98 business class seats, the lower deck provides room for 420 economy passengers.
Airbus says the nearly 240-foot (more than 70-meter) long plane can carry up to 850 passengers.
While economy class is much like any other plane, first class features dark brown leather chairs convertible into a full-sized beds and private, lockable closets for passengers. The restrooms provide ample space for washing and changing, and separate urinals for male guests.
Lufthansa says the A380 will provide a fuel economy per seat of 11 percent compared to Boeing\'s 747-400 and overall cost will be some 15 percent lower than with the 747.
The company says it is considering serving some 20 destinations with its A380 fleet in the future, most of them being important hubs in Asia or North America.
"The A380 is probably a positive development for Lufthansa," Per-Ola Hellgren, an analyst with German bank LBBW, said.
"The basic economics are there: It\'s about transporting as many passengers as possible per flight without compromising on comfort. And the A380 greatly reduces fuel costs per seat."
Commenting on the relatively low number of first and business class passengers on Lufthansa\'s A380, Hellgren added: "Of course it\'s always better to have more premium passengers, but this reflects the current business environment."
Lufthansa this month reported an increased group revenue of euro5.8 billion for the first quarter, even though it made a net loss of euro298 million for the first quarter, as the carrier faced a strike by pilots, higher fuel costs and expenses from consolidating stakes in other airlines.
The airline still hopes to achieve a positive operating result for the full year. It has not yet specified what the financial burden of the disruptions caused by the Icelandic volcano will be.
Lufthansa, based in Cologne, owns or holds significant stakes in airlines including Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, JetBlue of the U.S. and Britain\'s BMI.