Virgin Atlantic’s newest arrival, its A340-600, takes its first commercial flight at 18:30 today from Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport. The A340-600 is the longest in the world at 247ft (75.3m) - 16ft (4.8m) longer than any other commercial plane. The aircraft is the first of an order of 10 due to be delivered between now and 2006 - a deal worth $1.9 billion (£1.25 billion). 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 inaugural flight will be commemorated in traditional airport style with the Heathrow Fire Brigade creating a water arch over the aircraft as it taxis to the runway. Passengers travelling on today’s flight will also be given cake, champagne, t-shirts and certificates to mark their journey on this historic flight.
The new aircraft offers passengers many new onboard features including a redesigned onboard bar and inflight beauty therapy area in Upper Class and new seats for both Premium Economy and Economy passengers. The aircraft also has the most advanced inflight entertainment system in the world which provides passengers with up to 300 hours of video on demand, 14 audio on demand channels, 15 computer games including multi-player games, and a quick find search facility.
The new seats also offer passengers the largest screen in business class at 10.4” and the largest screen in Economy at 9”. Passengers will also notice the new toilets with chrome fittings and mood lighting - and not just for passengers in Upper Class but for everybody throughout the plane.
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Atlantic, said:
“Today’s inaugural flight is the culmination of five years of hard work from both Virgin Atlantic and Airbus so I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved. The plane is great news for our passengers who will benefit from new products and services onboard including new seats and inflight entertainment.
“We also have one of the youngest fleets in world aviation and the introduction of this new plane brings the average fleet age down to 5 years and 3 months. Once we have got three more A340-600s at the end of this year the average fleet age will be 4 years and 10 months.
“The environmental advantages of this aircraft include 20% less fuel consumption than older generation aircraft and full compliance with the latest QC2 noise limits at Heathrow.
“As well as going farther 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!”
Virgin Atlantic’s A340-600s will seat 311 passengers in total - 50 in Upper Class, 28 Premium Economy and 233 Economy. This represents a 25% increase in capacity per aircraft compared to the airline’s current A340-300 fleet, which will be replaced by the new aircraft. The aircraft will also have up to 40% additional cargo capacity. The wings for the aircraft are supplied by Airbus UK and the engines built by Rolls Royce.
The new aircraft has been granted the same pilot type rating as in-service A340-300’s, which reduces flight deck retraining and also provides the airline with increased revenue potential through higher capacity and reduced seat mile costs. The A340-600 has a range of 7,300nm/13,500 km 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.