On 25 October 2007 the first scheduled flight operated by an Airbus A380 takes off from Singapore to Sydney. Tickets for the first flight were sold on e-Bay for USD 1,25 million. The total profit of the first flight will go to charity. Singapore Airlines is a very caring, proud new owner. They took part in the developments from day one. CEO Chew Choon Seng said at the delivery ceremony: “From today there is a new queen of the skies in air travel.”
The Supersize Queen
The Superjumbo is a record from many aspects. The following numbers present how outstanding this giant plane is. It is 73 m long (as a comparison the width of a soccer field is 73 m). Its wingspan is 80 m and its height is 24 m. The operating empty weight is 277 tons, while maximum take off wieght is 560 tons. Usable cabin space: 630 sq m. In the cockpit there are no more rod controls, normal PC joysticks are used isntead. The big lady requires more space on the ground, too. The early studies thought that the A380 will ruin all runways and taxiways, but the first tests show it harms concrete and asphalt less than Boeing 747 as A380 has 22 wheels, while Jumbo has 4 less. It seems that any airport can accept the A380, but still it needs more space on tha apron and during maneuvering in front of the terminal buildings. Bridges designed for double decker planes are also necessary for simultaneous passenger boarding. Naturally the huge engines make bigger turbulance than other frequently used passenger aircrafts, so more space is needed for taking off or landing after an A380.
The huge milady is definately luxurious. The new Singapore Airlines fleet member will carry 471 people on board (the plane itself can be seated up to 800, but the standard 3 cabin – economy, business, first – configuration can have 550 seats). The 399 economy seats will feature and a 23 cm widescreen for 100 movies, 180 TV programmes, 700 cd and 22 radio stations to choose from. The 60 business seats on the upper deck will be laid-out in a 1-2-1 formation, with each seat being 86 cm wide. The business seats convert to a fully-flat bed. The First Class Suites look something similar to old classy train cabins rather than airplane seats. They are cabins and not seats with a full size mattress, a wide screen on the wall and they can easily be transformed from a bedroom to a mini restaurant, where first class passengers can invite their first class mates for dinner. First class cabins can be paired up and opened to a bigger suite with a double bed.
It is not just Singapore Airlines that wants to give special services to its high yield passengers. Emirates that has just reseated it 777 fleet with first class cabins resembling the spirit of the old Orient-Express. They are expected to present similar luxury on board their new A380s. They will probably create more social scenes as well, such as a bar or a fitness room at least that is what Virgin Atlantic plans to do, so they must keep themselves competitive. Qantas also plans a bar and even their business class seats will have built-in massage function. Lufthansa has just presented the first part of their new First Class concept by opening a new First Class lounge at Frankfurt and Munich.
The long and winding road
Airbus started planning the development of a Megaliner – as they called it at that time. Their goal was to break the dominance of Boeing in the giant planes segment with its very successful 747. Other competitors also tried to enter the market, but they all failed. It was clearly visible that this segment is too small for more than 2 models, therefore Airbus and Boeing joined efforts and wrote a feasibility study of a common plane together. The common development never started, so following the decision of Airbus’ Supervisory Board on 19 december 2000, a EUR 8.8 bllion project was started. The number 8 in the A380 is a symbol of the double deck and in many Far-Eastern cultures it is a lucky number (and as mentioned above, Singapore Airlines took part from the first day). The number was not that lucky in this case though as the project missed its deadline by 1,5 years and overdrafted its budget by EUR 2.2 billion. The first delay was announced in June 2005 blaming the enormous amount (530 km) of cables needed for each oaircraft. The next delay came in June 2006 followed by a 26% drop in the value of Airbus and the owner company EADS shares. At this point there were serious consequences and the CEO of EADS and Airbus and the A380 programme manager had to leave their companies. It was the new CEO who announced the biggest delay in October 2006 and successfully estimating the first delivery to happen a year later. In connection with the delays, a new scandal came into the sight of both the media and the French parliament. It appeared that before the June 2006 delay announcement, EADS and Airbus high level managers sold their shares. They are accused with internal trading and now a legal procedure is on against them.
What is next?
Seventeen airlines have ordered the A380, including an order from aircraft lessor ILFC. Total orders for the A380 stand at 190, of which 165 were firm as of 30 September 2007. Airbus expects to sell a total of 750 aircraft, and estimated break-even at 420 units, increased from 270 due to the delays and the falling exchange rate of the US dollar. In April 2007, Airbus CEO Louis Gallois said that break-even had risen further, but declined to give the new figure. Industry analysts anticipate between 400 and 880 sales by 2025. As of 2006, the list price of an A380 is US$ 296 to 316 million, depending on equipment installed.
It is still unprojectable whether the business model of such a huge tin lady will be successful or not. It can be operated profitably by airlines taht have many long haul flights with huge number of passengers on these routes. The number of such airlines is limited and due to travel seasons it is not sure that even on these routes they can always fill this huge bird. Anyway we keep our fingers crossed, because when seeing such scientific development, we can always see our own evolution.