Two and a half years after its first flight, the Airbus A380 airliner entered service late in October with Singapore Airlines (SIA). While SIA has received the only example of the super large airliner slated for 2007 delivery, next August Emirates Airline is slated to get the first of the 55 A380s it has ordered to date. The high-profile Dubai carrier claims not to be perturbed about this delivery sequence, despite having been the official launch customer for the aircraft.
Airbus plans to deliver a total of 13 aircraft next year to SIA, Emirates and Australia’s Qantas. Neither Emirates nor Qantas has revealed initial service plans for the A380, preferring to keep their powder dry before courting public attention nearer the time. But SIA has been able to generate maximum publicity from the A380 introduction through two final dress-rehearsal flights operated a few days before the first scheduled flight, carrying passengers who had bid for their tickets at auction. SIA attracted offers that included a $100,380 bid for a first-class “package,” while the minimum successful bid was just $560.
The initial SIA auction generated nearly $1.3 million for charity, while two dozen places were reserved for “last chance” bids that raised the total to nearly $2 million. The airline’s first commercial flight with the double-decker was SQ221, overnight from Singapore to Sydney, Australia, on October 28. The A380 is to replace a Boeing 747-400 on one of three daily flights on that route at the beginning of the airline’s Southern Hemisphere summer timetable.
With only one example in service until next year, SIA will build A380 experience slowly–in terms of cycles–but flight hours will grow rapidly. The first aircraft will be flown more than 15 hours per day, with less than two hours scheduled for turnaround in Sydney and less than seven hours for line maintenance, cabin cleaning, galley and toilet servicing, and the loading and unloading of passengers and their baggage in Singapore.
The Asian carrier’s introduction of the A380 will contribute to its plans to be a “greener” airline. Apart from some current 747-400 flights that will be “up-gauged” to the new widebody, some of the Boeing quad-jets will give way to smaller 777-300ERs twin-engine models on medium-density routes.
Like all other 747-400 operators, SIA had alternative Boeing offers to consider when addressing increased market demand but regarded selection of the more-capacious aircraft as “a more environmentally friendly” solution. “We can carry about as many people on three [daily] A380 flights between Singapore and London as on four 747-400 flights, with an aircraft that has significant efficiencies in fuel burn,” according to the airline. “As demand grows and environmental concerns mount, the industry will need to look at alternative ways of adding capacity.”
Initially, SIA has adopted a configuration offering about 80 seats fewer than the nominal A380 capacity of about 550 travelers. The aircraft, which allows the carrier to increase volume relative to the 747-400 in business- and economy-classes by approximately 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively, has been configured for 471 passengers, including 72 in premium cabins.
Top-grade travel will be available in 12 “suites” at the forward end of the main deck, with 60 seats upstairs in business class in one-plus-two-plus one configuration. Two economy-class cabins accommodate 399 people, divided between upper and lower decks. The 88-passenger higher-level economy section offers a two-plus-four-plus-two layout, with 311 main deck seats laid out in three-plus-four-plus-three formation.
The A380 business- and economy-class sections are essentially those offered since 2006 on SIA’s 777-300ERs. The up-front suites, which can reconfigured in flight to create enclosed compartments, are being sold as “beyond” first class and identified as a so-called “R” class.
Airbus provided two courses of flight crew training for A380 type ratings before it introduced flights with the new aircraft. A second batch of 40 (that is, 20 two-person crews) enrolled after the initial SIA group completed training in Toulouse in July.
Simultaneously, the first engineering technicians supplemented theoretical training with practical training on virtual devices in Singapore. The mechanics then received practical experience on the real aircraft, including engine running, in August.
A Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore evaluation pilot was among four crews in the first flight training group, which began their ground training in Singapore in June. Airbus flight training started with full-flight simulator work involving takeoffs, landings, normal maneuvers, and abnormal and emergency situations. SIA captains then were able to devote one and a half weeks to flying the A380 in simulated airline flights from Toulouse to a number of French domestic destinations.
Emirates To Boost A380 Presence
Despite SIA having pole position to receive all the publicity with its introduction of the A380 late last month, original launch customer Emirates may not be out of the spotlight for long. Here at the Dubai Air Show the local carrier could place a huge follow-on order for more A380s, having declared a requirement for at least another 55 aircraft.
According to Emirates president Tim Clark, the limiting factor is capacity at the airline’s hub here. “Fifty-five is the absolute [maximum] number we can accommodate at the moment,” he said at the delivery of the operator’s first 777-200ER in September.
Commercial operations senior vice president Keith Longstaff has said that Emirates is “very disappointed” that the A380 delay has been so long. This had constituted “a very serious setback” to the airline’s plans, although not without its compensations, he said. “We will be the major [A380] operator, so it will be a good learning curve for someone else to have it before us. We will certainly benefit from it,” he said. “Another advantage is that our [brand-new] A380 won’t be a test aircraft but will be built specifically for us.” Competing United Arab Emirates carrier Etihad Airways is slated to receive four A380s from the flight-test program, including Serial Numbers 2, 4 and 9.
However, like SIA, Emirates will ensure that economy-class passengers continue to experience current levels of cabin service and presentation, very much like those provided in the rest of the fleet. “You run aircraft to make a profit,” stated Longstaff. “All of the ‘gizmos’ will be restricted to first and business [class cabins], while economy [class] will be very similar [to current offerings]: it will be a seat.”
In August, Airbus undertook a week of high-temperature proving trials in Dubai with A380 S/N 7, involving 100 tests and more than 2,000 people, including a team of almost 80 Airbus employees. The trials included operations in normal and extreme temperatures, considerations of airport compatibility (including taxiway, runway and ground support equipment tests, and terminal gate docking) and use of Emirates Engineering’s maintenance dock in Hangar C here at Dubai International Airport.
The airline conducted four two-hour flights at typical Emirates 80-percent load factors to introduce the A380 to many of the its internal departments, including airport services, in-flight catering, cabin crew, flight operations, cargo, in-flight systems, engineering and maintenance, group security and DNATA airport operations. The airplane made two flights during the airport’s morning peak time and two more during the afternoon’s highest temperatures.
Emirates used a standard 90-minute turnaround time to handle each flight, which involved passenger numbers some 40 percent higher than is normal. Mainly airline staff was used to manage boarding operations via two-story jetways and from buses on the apron.
Rolls-powered A380 Takes a Bow in China
Just as Singapore Airlines was running its final Airbus A380 dress-rehearsal flights to Sydney, the Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered S/N 7 was making the type’s first appearance in China. As one of the two A380s that were fitted with an airline cabin interior very early in the flight-test program, the aircraft was tasked with visiting three major cities–Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai–during the seven days up to October 29.
According to Airbus’ Beijing office, the aircraft was equipped to carry 519 passengers.
Five aircraft earmarked for China Southern Airlines are among 185 A380s for which customers had placed orders or made commitments by early last month.
GP7000 Takes To the Air
Having completed route-proving with the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 last year, Airbus has most recently been performing similar trials with A380 S/N 9, powered by General Electric/Pratt & Whitney GP7000 engines. The aircraft flew four series of flights to accumulate the 150 hours of “typical airline” continuous operation required for certification, which it expects next month.
Visiting North and South America, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region, the A380 initially went to the Colombian capital Bogota in late September, and then early last month to the U.S., where it visited Connecticut, Kentucky and California. Route proving continued to Dubai; Melbourne, Australia; and Manila and Luzon in the Philippines, and then Dubai again. Finally, the A380 returned to Bogota, and then went on to Vancouver, Canada, and Osaka, Japan, in mid-October, having returned to Toulouse between each pair of journeys.