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…
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