The huge new twin-deck aircraft, which can carry up to 840 people on its two full decks, supersedes the US company Boeing’s 747 as the biggest passenger aircraft ever made.

The leaders of France, Germany, Britain and Spain attended the ceremony, along with 5,000 other guests, and hailed the jet as a “European success”.

When commercial flights begin early next year, the A380 will become the flagship of many airline fleets and offer unprecedented amenities on long-haul services, including gyms, bedrooms and bars in some cases.

For the countries which backed the 10.7 billion euro ($A18.48 billion) development cost, the plane also stands as a prominent symbol of European cooperation.

“Good old Europe has made this possible,” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told a packed hall in Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, southwest France.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the dedication of all involved and described it as a symbol of European cooperation.

“This is the most exciting new aircraft in the world, a symbol of economic strength and technical innovation,” he said.

The first test flight of the A380 will take place in April, however the company has kept details of the exact date quiet.

“In this great aircraft, there is a mixture of determination and of dreams, which is, and always has been, at the heart of the wealth and splendid complexity of our European culture,” said Noel Forgeard, the French head of Airbus.

“The European states — so easily accused of weakness — backed this fantastic challenge 35 years ago and have believed in the A380,” he said.

Thirteen airlines have already placed firm orders for 139 of the planes.

Airbus calculates that by 2008 it will reach the break-even point of 250 A380s sold, and from that point it will turn out 35 of the aircraft per year.

Richard Branson, the head of British airline Virgin Atlantic, said his company has ordered six super jumbos which will each carry around 500 passengers.

He said the extra space will be used to pamper passengers, including gambling tables, double beds, beauty parlours, bars and even a gym.

Qantas has ordered 12 with options for 10 more, with the first being delivered in October 2006.

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said the airline would deploy its first jumbos on the Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles route.

Singapore Airlines will be the first to start using the A380s from early next year, and has indicated it plans to deploy some of its A380s on the Sydney to London route around mid-2006.

Dubai-based Emirates has ordered 43 jumbos, with its chairman describing it as “the future of air travel”.

The dimensions of the huge machine include a wingspan of 80 metres, length of 73 metres, height of 24 metres and maximum take-off weight of 560 tonnes.

Its catalogue price will be between $US263 and 286 million, although discounts are frequently applied.