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Longest plane takes to skies

The new plane is flying from London to New York on its maiden voyage  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The longest passenger plane in the world has made its first commercial flight.

Virgin Atlantic's newest arrival, the A340-600, took off from Heathrow at 7.30 p.m. (1830 GMT) on Thursday on a seven-flight to New York's JFK airport.

The plane is the longest in the world at 247 feet (75.3 metres) -- 16 feet (4.8 metres) longer than any other commercial plane, and is the first of a 1.25 billion ($1.9 billion) order of 10 planes said to be delivered before 2006.

The aircraft has four Rolls-Royce engines and carries 311 passengers in total -- a 25 percent increase in capacity from the older A340-300 Virgin planes, which will be replaced if the A340-600 proves a success.

Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Airlines, said: "The environmental advantages of this aircraft include 20 percent less fuel consumption than older generation aircraft and full compliance with the latest QC2 noise limits at Heathrow."

Heathrow Fire Brigade will create a water arch over the aircraft as it taxis to the runway. Passengers travelling on the flight will be given cake, champagne and certificates to mark the historic flight.

Passengers can then use the onboard bar and in-flight beauty therapy area in upper class. The plane also has an advanced entertainment system, providing passengers with up to 300 hours of video on a 10.4" screen,14 audio channels and 15 computer games.

New bullet-proof, single-aisle cockpit doors designed to protect the crew from any unauthorised entry, as well as other up-dated security attachments are also part of the certification granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to improve security on the aircraft.

Branson said: "As well as going further and being quieter than previous generations, the new plane is also longer than any other. That's why we couldn't resist writing 'mine's bigger than yours' on the side of the plane!"

Last week the aircraft was named "Claudia Nine" by supermodel Claudia Schiffer in front of media and VIPs at Virgin Atlantic's newly-built hangar at Heathrow airport before the aircraft flew on to the Farnborough Airshow.

The A340-600 has a range of 7,300 miles (13,500 kilometres) and will be deployed on routes with growing passenger demand. This year the aircraft will fly between Heathrow and New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.




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