AIRBUS is playing down the significance of A380 launch customer Virgin Atlantic's decision to defer its six orders by 18 months, saying the reasons are unique to the UK airline. The Gatwick-based airline was due to be the first European operator to take the aircraft in July 2006. Deliveries of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered aircraft will not now start until late 2007 after agreement was reached with Airbus to delay the order. Virgin says that it remains "absolutely committed" to the concept of the A380, but is clearly being prudent. The airline”s reluctance to be a lead operator of the A380 could be the result of its experiences with the A340-600 which although not a new aircraft in concept did prove initially to be a strain on the carrier”s performance. Virgin clearly would prefer to allow larger carriers with more resources to deal with the frustrations of the introduction of a new type. Questions have also been asked regarding airport handling which will take time to sort out. Air France is also reported to have delayed introduction by four months. In the meantime Rolls-Royce have started flight testing the massive new engine on an Airbus A340 test bed. Interestingly, initially at least, there will now be no A380s operating out of London across the North Atlantic, the world”s busiest long haul international routes. What there will be, probably by 2008, is up to eight of the aircraft ready every evening at Heathrow to depart to the Far East. These will have to be filled by point to point, or interline traffic although the carriers involved, in the main, are also developing direct services out of UK regional airports, bi-passing LHR.