Tuesday, October 30, 2007
An impressive beast
I have delayed for a few days blogging about the first flight of the A380 because I wanted to let my thoughts gestate rather than rushing to publish. I wanted to let it all sink in now I have seen it in operation.

It is an impressive beast. The sheer size and scale will keep newcomers open-jawed. Of course, what passengers experience will be up to the airlines not to Airbus, so in that sense the plane maker was lucky that the launch customer was Singapore Airlines who clearly decided they would raise the standards. Not since the days of the Pullman railway carriages have I seen anything quite like their First Class suites.

There are no bars, no gyms, or bowling alleys or indeed any other gimmicks on SQ’s A380s. And the CEO Chew Chen Sen makes no apology for this. I remember him telling me four years ago they wouldn’t have them. Instead their philosophy is to give the passenger more room. It works in Business and First where you almost need to MapQuest to find your way round. In Economy, well, it is economy and that’s that!

One thing stands out in my mind from the first flight. As I was interviewing the Captain, I asked him whether he had ever actually flown the plane before with so many real people on board. Without blushing or blinking he admitted the inaugural flight was the first time he had ever flown it with 455 people. All the previous flights were either in simulators, ferry flights or with fewer passengers.

Now, I know most pilots train in the sims and their first “real” flight is with passengers. The sims are exceptionally realistic. Even so, it did give me pause for thought. Think about it: the first time you do something you are doing it for real.

What everyone agreed upon was the new plane is quiet. Very quiet. At take off roll, several of us talked in normal tones across the aisles and could have conversation. This will be an eye-opener.

Boarding and disembarking (NOT deplaning … never deplaning) requires the three jetways: two to the main deck and one to the upper. So long as all three are working it will not be a problem. What worries me is when airports don’t maintain the infrastructure. The moment one jetway is out of use, then the whole thing will become badly delayed (take note LHR!)

So the new era has begun. From the China Clipper, to the Dakota, to the 707, to Concorde and the Jumbo Jet, this is the next stage in aviation. (Forgive me, I have missed out so much but space and your indulgence is limited.)

Oh and some facts that you can all argue about. Firstly, the A380 is not the first full double-decker plane. I am grateful to Richard Ch. for reminding me of the Deux Pont in the 1950s.

And anyway, which is the largest plane in the world? The Airbus A380? The Antanov 225? But it’s a military and cargo plane, so does it count? The Spruce Goose also had a wingspan greater than the superjumbo.

And besides the Wright brothers plane, which has been the single most important plane since powered flight began?

Let the arguing begin…
I feel this is a quite interesting report on this important flight, and I appreciate the comparissions with other milestones, but Wright brothers? Please, 14-bis by Santos Dumont has been long been recognized as the first and most important powered flight in history.
Good article. Would have liked to read a bit more abou those 1st class cabins, perhaps with a pic.
Hello Richard and all readers,
Let me be the first to agree with you on most things you say about the A380, after all I have been awaiting this moment in history just as much as any other avid aviation enthusiast. I must say though that although I briefly debated this with on board the 1st flight, in the 1st class cabin, you still allow your sentiments to get the better of your judgment. The so called "suites" has been around on the Emirates A340-500 for over 5 years. Admittedly, the suites on the A380 are roomier that does not change the fact that this level of luxury, with bells and whistles on the A380, has not been reinvented on the A380. Please try the Emirates suites before you make comments like "Not since the days of the Pullman railway carriages have I seen anything quite like their First Class suites" - it dilutes from your credibility.
Well done Airbus and Singapore Airlines.
"In Economy, well, it is economy and that’s that!" That´s the whole point: I´m more comfortable inside my daily commute bus than flying coach, and that´s simply outrageous. The ticket it´s not cheap and you end up like a sardine in a can. Airlines have a dreadful "I couldn´t care less" attitude towards coach passengers, and Richard, you should say something about this!

I'd have to say the De Havilland Comet - despite the fact that it crashed many times upon its entry in to service and was eventually withdrawn, it ushered in a new age of passenger travel. Furthermore, it's STILL flying as part of the Nimrod squadrons with the RAF. Very impressive.

Hello Q,

The largest commercial airplane this may be but, as a regular business traveller, am I looking forward to flying the mighty 380? Not at all. The Super Jumbo was designed to carry more passengers over probably the same distance without burning more fuel. Simply put, it’s the equivalent of a Bus.

For all practical purposes, the airplane is the same inside except for perhaps more seats. The experience for the passenger is still unchanged. For many people, flying is still an exciting part of the journey. For all of them, the arrival of the 380 just means more time in getting on and much longer queues while disembarking. Nothing on the inside has changed. The experience of flying in a 380 or a 340 or even a 777 has not changed.

Keeping this in mind, I am looking forward to the arrival of the Boeing Dreamliner. This plane, for the first time in who knows how many decades, will actually offer passengers, in all classes, a different flying experience. For me and perhaps other business travellers, the Dreamliner will be a breath of fresh air. Not smog from the back of an overgrown bus with wings.

Muhammad Faisal
Dubai, UAE
Fantastic plane!! but what about its configuration: an ultra luxurious first class ever, a posh business class and just a bit more pimped economy. What`s the added value of the plane for mass transportation?? can easyjet get some of the and put some 900 seats from London to Rio de Janeiro for $99.99 or will be better to kee p like it is now?? Definitely history just started with this "Titanic" of the skyes.
I can not understand why american keep repeating that the brothers Wright were the first to fly on a airplane, when they did it without anybody to see it...while Alberto Santos Dumont, did fly in front of all Paris, around the Eiffel tower and won for that a large amount of money as a premium , so just to keep history correct, Alberto santos Dumont, a Brazilian, was the first to fly on a machine . Eduardo , from Rio,Brazil.
Airplane flying is the most eco-negetive activity of individuals, accounting for an average of 40% of CO2 emissions here in Sweden: The article fails to mention this, but please keep it in mind.
It seems to me that the A380 will end up being an albatross. Yes, it beat Boeing's launch of its new plane made of composite materials. But that will be forgotten. In the end, given the price of oil and the misery of travel these days, Airbus' decision to go for luxury bulk over efficiency will prove a mistake. The A380 won't integrate well into most airports; its size will make for slow boarding and deboarding (good luck with connectors). It just depends too much on airport efficiency, which is largely dead, especially in the US. I predict Boeing's choice will prove the wiser.
If curling is an olympic discipline, surely the Antonov 225 can count as a plane.
That plane is nothing compared to my passenger train! My trains got rooms, showers and a restauraunt. And we dont treat people like **** like some airlines do.
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