The world’s largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, has been unveiled in a elaborate ceremony in France. The twin-deck aircraft can carry about 555 people - more than a Boeing 747 jumbo built by Airbus’ competitor. The lavish ceremony was attended by European leaders including Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder.
French President Jacques Chirac praised the new A380 as the “crowning achievement of a human and industrial adventure”, describing it as a “European success”. Meanwhile the British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised the dedication of all those involved and explained that the A380 is a symbol of European cooperation working at its best. “This is the most exciting new aircraft in the world, a symbol of economic strength and technical innovation,” he said. “Above all, it is a sign of confidence that we can compete and win in the global market”.
Airbus chief executive Noel Forgeard said he expects sales of the A380 to comfortably exceed 250, the number required for the project to break even. He explained that Airbus hopes to sell more than 700 of the aircraft and they are in talks to sell the plane to China. Mr Forgeard said he was confident about the success of the A380, which will enter service in 2006. Airbus - a joint venture between European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and BAE Systems - has secured 149 confirmed orders for the A380 from 14 customers including 11 passenger airlines.
Airbus confirmed on Tuesday that it is in talks to sell the airline to China. “I am very confident about a Chinese order by Easter,” Mr Forgeard said. By building the $11bn plane, Airbus is banking on demand for a large plane offering cheaper seats between the world’s major cities. Meanwhile, Airbus’ main rival Boeing has taken a different view and is focusing on smaller new aircraft able to fly direct to a wider number of destinations. Boeing’s rival 7E7 ‘Dreamliner’ project has secured orders from Continental Airlines and Japan Airlines. The new plane will enter service in 2008.
Industry reaction to the Airbus A380 has been significant. Virgin Atlantic Airways congratulated Airbus on the reveal of its first A380 aircraft. This aircraft, which is set to change the way people fly and the face of travel, will enter into service with Virgin Atlantic in spring 2008. Virgin Atlantic has ordered six of the aircraft with options for a further six. Including their Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines, the 12 aircraft are worth $3 billion.
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic said:
“It is a proud moment for Airbus to unveil the first A380, a momentous day in aviation’s history and an exciting opportunity for airlines to create new ways of flying for our passengers.
“Virgin Atlantic’s 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!
“We have proved with previous aircraft that we set new standards. Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer individual TV screens and a choice of channels to all passengers, the first and only airline to introduce an onboard bar and inflight beauty therapists as well as a dedicated snooze zone for business class passengers. Virgin Atlantic was also the first airline to offer Premium Economy - a super economy service for full fare economy passengers, which has since been copied by other airlines and the revolutionary Upper Class Suite, which provides the passenger with a luxury leather armchair to relax on which then flips over into a separate bed with a mattress to sleep on.
“We have been waiting for some new technologies which are now on the cusp of commercial application so that we can make our A380’s flying from 2008 the most radically different in the sky! Our planes will not just be bigger but also better than those which have flown before.”
Virgin Atlantic plans to take delivery of its six A380 from May 2008 with the final aircraft being delivered in February 2010. The airline plans to operate the aircraft to JFK, Hong Kong, Sydney, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo. Virgin Atlantic’s A380s will have over 500 seats and will be configured in the airline’s three award winning classes: Upper Class; Premium Economy and Economy.
The A380 will give Virgin Atlantic some relief from the problems of airport congestion. Virgin Atlantic already utilises slots more effectively than any other airline. At Heathrow the average number of passenger per flight is 145 while Virgin currently carries 250. The A380 aircraft would be likely to carry an average of over 400 passengers per flight and could increase the airline’s average to around 300 at least.
Virgin Atlantic is working with airports around the world to ensure they will be able to accommodate the aircraft. Work is well under way at London Heathrow where the BAA has committed £450m to ensure the airport will be ready for the A380 and expects to accommodate more A380 flights than any other airport worldwide. Virgin Atlantic had concerns about LA Airport’s ability to meet the requirements of the A380 but understand that LA Airport’s master-plan has now been approved by the LA city council and hopes that all necessary works will start at the airport during 2005.
The A380 will have a range of over 8000 nm with a full passenger payload.
Efficient Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines will provide new levels of fuel efficiency and reduction in emissions when compared to current in-service aircraft types. In fact, its environmental performance is unmatched as it produces only half the normal take-off noise while at the same time carrying approximately 30% more passengers than the current largest passenger aircraft. This new technology will enable the direct operating costs to be lower per seat than its nearest rival.
The aircraft is also the first to be developed incorporating advanced flight deck technology which enables the flight crew to have all required safety, operating and maintenance information available to them via an integral “on-board information system” - computerized and fully paperless.
With its distinctive 80 m wingspan and double deck fuselage design the A380 will soon be recognised around the world as it takes up the position of commercial aviation’s first flagship aircraft of the 21st century.
Virgin Atlantic has been involved in the programme since its conception. As a member of the airline focus group Virgin Atlantic has worked with Airbus to help define the aircraft that we see today, thereby trying to ensure that it meets the needs of both Virgin Atlantic and other airlines. Our inputs in both the overall aircraft definition and in particular the interior environment will have enabled Airbus to introduce an aircraft suited to the requirements of passengers and airlines for many years to come.
Sir Richard Branson commented:
“We appreciate that some say that size doesn’t matter but we’re proud to say that - unlike other British airlines - Virgin Atlantic will have both the longest (the A340-600) and the biggest aircraft in the sky!”
Elsewhere, Singapore Airlines, already a customer for the very long range A340-500, explained that they will be the first customer to receive and operate the A380.
In line with its policy of maintaining a young fleet, Singapore Airlines will use its A380s to replace their older large aircraft with a more modern, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly aircraft, compliant with the most stringent noise and emissions regulations.
The A380 will allow Singapore Airlines to fly non-stop between Singapore and all the capital cities of Europe, giving the airline room to grow in a congested airport environment without increasing the number of slots. And the large cabin will give their designers an opportunity for innovative cabin amenities.
With 45 aircraft on firm order, Emirates is the world’s largest customer of the A380 aircraft. Emirates’ orders for the
superjumbo amount to a full third of all orders received by Airbus for the
new aircraft, from more than a dozen of the world’s airlines.
With a combined value of almost USD $15 billion at list price, this is a
huge investment by Emirates and an unmistakable sign of its commitment to
the product and its belief in it as a key element of its future fleet.
The first critical factor in Emirates huge order is the airline’s need today
for an aircraft w/ the high capacity/low operating cost combination offered
by the A380.
Emirates has embraced the new aircraft more quickly and massively than other
carriers because its rate of expansion is much higher than that of most
other airlines and is more hobbled by capacity constraints than them. In a
nutshell, Emirates wants more A380s because it needs more of them, and the
sooner the better.
Over a 20-year history of rapid growth, Emirates has learned that the
greatest impediment to its development is not in customer demand but in the
number of seats it can offer. The result is an A380 order book that will
make Emirates the world’s largest operator of the new aircraft for at least
the first decade from its launch.
As HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, Emirates Group Chairman put it,
“The A380 is an ambitious aircraft that meets our ambitious growth strategy.
Every single one of the A380s we have ordered has been carefully planned for
and supports present and future network needs. It will play a significant
part in our expansion in a way that no other aircraft could.”
He added: “By 2012 our current 73-strong fleet will more than double in
size, while enabling us to carry a lot more than twice the present number of
passengers, because the average size of the aircraft will be substantially
bigger. We will be able to offer more seats, in ever greater comfort,
without depending so much on frequency increases.”
He concluded: “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 people 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.”