Both Airbus and Buena Vista deny that the release of the movie just before the delivery of the first A380 jets in March 2006 are coordinated events.
A spokeswoman at Airbus North America said the producers of "Flight Plan," including Touchstone Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, never contacted the company for support. A Buena Vista representative said the massive airliner used as the main set of the movie is a fictional craft.
The actual Airbus A380, which made its first test flight two weeks ago, is a spectacular new product that goes into the record books as the world's largest airliner. A double-decker jet that can seat 555 passengers but has room for more than 800 eclipses rival Boeing's 747.
Days before the test flight, Buena Vista released the first trailer for "Flight Plan" featuring an amazingly similar craft. A Buena Vista representative, however, said that timing was also "coincidental."
The fictional jet's details are very similar to the real thing: two full decks of passenger seating with large spiral staircases, seven galleys, a full bar and a cockpit with bunks for the crew. "It's brand new," Ms. Foster's character says in the film's trailer. "It's the biggest."
Airbus is counting on the A380 to appeal to international airlines as it battles rival Boeing and its aging 747 fleet. Air France, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Emirates, Lufthansa, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Etihad Airways, Thai Airways, Qatar Airways, FedEx and UPS have ordered 154 A380 jets as of January. The plane has a list price of $285 million. Airbus needs to sell 250 of the planes to break even, the company said. Given steep development costs, however, analysts say that number is much larger.
"They have to sell the planes to the airlines," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group, a Virginia consultancy. "It's all about getting out there and promoting a positive image of the aircraft. It's all about making the numbers. You can make an argument that all publicity is good publicity."
Airbus has been promoting the A380 "as the cruise ship of the sky with tanning salons and duty-free shopping," Mr. Aboulafia said. "But if you're going to promote an unrealistic image of air transportation, you might find yourself facing the flipside of that and affected by other unrealistic images, too."
CRUISE SHIP OF THE SKY
"Ultimately to airlines," he said, "it comes down to economics and not whether people enjoy the experience. Studies have shown that people don't pay a whole lot of attention to the kind of plane they'll be flying in when booking a flight."
Buena Vista said the film's producers needed a large airplane to make the plot believable. It just wouldn't have worked on a traditional single-deck jet. In the film, Ms. Foster's character is an aviation engineer who mysteriously loses her 6-year-old daughter during a flight from Germany to the U.S.
The airplane designs and interiors in the film are so strikingly similar to the A380 that early viewers of the film have mistaken the "Flight Plan" set for the real jet, according to several test-screen reviews that have been posted on the Internet.
"Flight Plan" will land in theaters Sept. 23, and comes at a time when Hollywood is in the midst of producing several airplane-based thrillers. Among them are DreamWorks' "Red Eye" and New Line Cinema's "Flight 121," formerly called "Snakes on a Plane." Not surprisingly, the plot deals with passengers who have to deal with deadly snakes that are released mid-flight by an assassin. In the past, Boeing's 747 had been a staple of airborne-disaster films like "Airport 1975," "Airport '77" and "Turbulence."
Buena Vista said the film needed a double-deck airplane to make the plot believable, but called the similarities to the A380 ‘coincidental’