Air France is the first European carrier to introduce the Airbus A380 double-decker Superjumbo in its fleet, with the first scheduled commercial flight taking place between Paris Charles-de-Gaulle and New York JFK airports. Air France has 12 of the type on order and plans to take delivery of the first three in the 2009/2010 winter season. Their first plane is already the 20th of the type in operation and now all three airline alliances operate at least one of the type.
380 tickets for each of the first flights were auctioned off on e-Bay in October, where all proceeds went to charity organizations selected by Air France. The first European owned SuperJumbo seats 538 passengers – compared to just 450 at Qantas, 471 at Singapore Airlines and 489 at Emirates. The so-far most crowded A380 has only 9 seats in First Class, 80 in Business and 449 in Economy. 22 flight attendants will be taking care of the 538 passengers – meaning one steward(ess) for every 25 travellers. Besides being the first European airline to own the A380, Air France will also be the first to operate the aircraft to the African Continent as it plans to introduce the plane to a daily Johannesburg flight later this winter following the Paris-New York route.
At the launch ceremony Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon did not only focus on the “usual” media messaging around the unrivaled luxury of the A380 (as Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Qantas did earlier), but instead pointed out the savings that this aircraft will bring for the company. Each aircraft will allow the carrier to save €12-€15 million ($17.7-$22.1 million) per year based on their calculations. This is mostly due to the size of the plane and that it can replace two other flights, which could be serviced by an Airbus A340-300 (equivalent to the upper deck) and a Boeing 777-200 (equivalent to the main deck of the A380) for example. Flying the same number of passengers in just a single A380 instead means 20% reduction in operating costs as the frequencies on busy routes can be rationalized by replacing two flights which leave at similar times by one flight, while offering the same number of seats. For example, between Paris and New York, an A380 leaving at 1:35pm can replace two flights operated by an A340 and a 777-200, leaving at 10:30am and at 1:35pm respectively. The same connecting morning flights can still service and feed the “big” flight.
On top of all the rationalization of flights, the A380 uses less fuel per passenger. It burns less than three litres per 100 km! Besides the gas emmissions, the A380 creates less noise than its closest rival, the Boeing 747 – half as much at take-off! I had the personal experience of seeing and (not) hearing the A380 land in Frankfurt on one of its test-flights back in 2007 with Lufthansa crew – and we were all shocked by the little noise it generated compared to other aircraft landing on the same approach route before and after it. The Air France A380 is also quieter in the cabin itself, and besides the 220 windows it has special lighting features to reflect the time of the day within a flight and to help synchronizing the body-clock of the passengers. Guests can also meet up during the flight for a drink and a snack in one of the 6 bars onboard. One of these is for Première (First Class) on the main deck, two for Affaires (Business Class) on the upper deck and three for Voyageur (Economy Class), with two at the main deck and one upstairs.
We hope Air France and its passengers will be happy with the first new Airbus A380 flying under European registration and providing the first Transatlantic connection aboard the double-decker superjumbo between Europe and North America. Please leave your comments if you happened to be on one of these flights and would like to share your experiences with our readers!
Separately, but conincidentally at the same time as the first Air France A380 flight: Emirates said it will begin serving Paris Charles de Gaulle with a 489-seat A380 from Dubai on Dec. 29 rather than Feb. 1. “An operational review, coupled with demand on the route, has led to an earlier introduction,” it said. The A380 will fly thrice-weekly to start, becoming daily Jan. 17.