If you had been waiting at an airport for its arrival, you would be forgiven for travelling with another airline next time, but finally the new Airbus A380-800, is now ready for take-off.
Even when the plans were still on the drawing board the emphasis for the double-decker plane was on delivering passenger comfort and space. Available in two models with varying passenger seating configurations, the A380 offers 50% more floor space than the largest airliner, the Boeing 747 and provides seating for either 525 people in a standard three-class configuration or 853 people all in economy class.
The A380 will be an impressive carrier, offering more, not less passenger comfort and amenities.
When the Boeing 747 was first introduced in 1970, cinemas and cocktail lounges were disregarded in favour of more seating but the case couldn't be more different for the A380, which has since been dubbed the superjumbo. Instead travellers are being promised a far more pleasurable flight experience with more and wider seats, lower seat distance costs and better amenities while still maintaining space for installation of bars, duty free shopping and beauty salons. It also gives 50% lower cabin noise than the 747 and a lower cabin altitude of 5,000 feet, both of which are expected to reduce the effects of jet lag.
John Leahy, chief operating officer, Airbus says: "The A380 is designed with the future in mind, and it is literally taking the world by storm - you only have to see the excitement in crowds that turn up wherever it lands."
The A380 is also eco-friendly, "The A380 burns 2.9 litres of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres, while the current airline fleet average is 5 litres. The airline industry consumes about 160 million tonnes of fuel per year," continues Leahy.
Who's got it?
Fifteen airlines have ordered the A380 and so far the total orders for the superjumbo stand at 174 of which 165 are confirmed. Casinos, double beds and bars are just some of the descriptions that have been used by airlines to describe how they will be making use of the extra space onboard the A380.
Singapore Airlines will be the first to fly the latest Airbus offering next month. The superjumbo's maiden voyage will take place on 15th October from Singapore's Changi Airport to Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport and will return the following week. Seats on the SQ380 flight are currently being auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds of the first flight being donated to a number of charities.
Singapore Airlines' A380 will be configured with 471 seats in three classes; economy, business and the new Singapore Airlines Suites, which are being marketed as a "class beyond First". In total the airline has ordered 19 of the superjumbos which are likely to be used for Singapore-San Francisco via Hong Kong and direct routes to Paris and Frankfurt.
Richard Branson has been more than vocal about his plans for his airline's six A380s which are expected to be delivered in 2013. The Virgin Atlantic founder recently said: "Our A380s are going to be bigger and better than any aircraft which has preceded them with bigger and better cabins for all our passengers. For both business and economy travellers we will be introducing a range of new features. Our innovations will ensure a better travel experience for everyone by utilising the space we have to play with to give our passengers more to play with too!"
The Virgin Atlantic A380 - which will operate to JFK, Hong Kong, Sydney, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo in three classes; upper class, premium economy and economy for up to 500 passengers - will feature gyms, beauty parlours, private double beds and an in-flight casino. "Since you have gaming and you have private double beds maybe there are two ways of getting lucky on a Virgin plane", the entrepreneur said.
Dubai-based Emirates was the first airline to make an initial order in April 2000 and it would be fair to say with a total of 55 superjumbos on order it is Airbus' number one fan. The first order placed was for seven but press reports over the following couple of years revealed the biggest civil aviation deal in history worth US$19bn when 23 models of the aircraft were ordered at the same time.
For Emirates, lower cost seating is priority, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates group chairman says: "The A380 will give us some of the lowest seat costs in the industry. It is an essential solution at slot-constrained airports. It will be an impressive carrier, while offering more, not less, passenger comfort and amenities. We are striving to make the flying experience enjoyable again, and the A380 will be a great tool in support of this goal."
The airline hasn't yet revealed what interior will be onboard but recent deals have hinted that in-flight entertainment also remains top priority. A US$1bn deal with Matsushita for its eX2 in-flight entertainment system has already been signed, as well as a US$80m deal for the purchase of First Class suites from B/E Aerospace.
Qantas has also revealed its plans for its 20 jets which are scheduled for delivery next August. As well as working closely with Airbus during the initial design process, the airline has been working in collaboration with celebrity Australian designer, Marc Newson, on the custom-designed interior. First class passengers will be able to enjoy the flight with sheepskin mattresses, 43cm entertainment screens and can even privately entertain guests for dinner. The biggest difference, the airline has said, will be the premium economy cabin.
Other airlines expecting delivery of the aircraft are Air France (12), China Southern (5), Etihad Airways (4), ILFC (10), Kingfisher Airlines (5), Korean Air (5), Lufthansa (15), Malaysia Airlines (6), Qatar Airways (5), Singapore Airlines (19), Thai Airways (6) and an unidentified VIP customer.
The A380 has been a long time in the making. Airbus started the development of a very large airliner (termed Megaliner by Airbus in the early development stages) in the early 1990s, both to complete its own range of products and to break the dominance that Boeing had enjoyed in this market segment since the early 1970s with its 747. McDonnell Douglas has also pursued a similar strategy with its ultimately unsuccessful MD-12 design. As each manufacturer looked to build a successor to the 747, they knew there was room for only one new aircraft to be profitable in the 600 to 800-seat market segment.
Each knew the risk of splitting such a niche market, as had been demonstrated by the simultaneous debut of the Lockheed L-1011 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10: either aircraft met the market's needs, but the market could profitably sustain only one model, eventually resulting in Lockheed's departure from the lucrative civil airliner business.
In January 1993, Boeing and several companies in the Airbus consortium started a joint feasibility study of an aircraft known as the Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT), aiming to form a partnership to share the limited market. The first completed A380 was presented at the "A380 Revealed" event in Toulouse, France.
In June 1994, Airbus began developing its own very large airliner, designated the A3XX. Airbus considered several designs, including an odd side-by-side combination of two fuselages from the A340, which was Airbus's largest jet at the time.
The A3XX was pitted against the VLCT study and Boeing's own New Large Aircraft successor to the 747, which evolved into the 747X, a stretched version of the 747 with the fore body "hump" extended rearwards to accommodate more passengers. The joint VLCT effort ended in July 1996, and Boeing suspended the 747X programme in January 1997.
From 1997 to 2000, as the East Asian financial crisis darkened the market outlook, Airbus refined its design, targeting a 15 to 20% reduction in operating costs over the existing Boeing 747-400.
The A3XX design converged on a double-decker layout that provided more passenger volume compared to a traditional single-deck design.
On December 19, 2000, the supervisory board of newly restructured Airbus voted to launch a US$12bn programme to build the A3XX, later renamed as the A380, with 55 orders from six launch customers. The A380 designation was a break from previous sequential Airbus designations because the number eight resembles the double-deck cross section, and is considered a lucky number in some Asian cultures. The aircraft's final configuration was frozen in early 2001, and manufacturing of the first A380 wing box component started on January 23, 2002.
The development cost of the A380 had grown to a massive US$14.9bn when the first aircraft was finally completed.
Boeing, meanwhile, resurrected the 747X programme several times before finally launching the 747-8 Intercontinental in November 2005 (with entry into service planned for 2009). Boeing chose to develop a derivative for the 400 to 500-seat market, instead of matching the A380's capacity.
It has been many years since the marvellous aircraft's inception and many billions of dollars along the way - but the day when the A380 makes its first commercial flight is almost here.
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