Journalists descended on Toulouse today as Airbus for the first time took the wraps off an A380 with a completed cabin.
Airbus flew 200 journalists including myself over France for two hours in an A380 test aircraft configured with 519 seats. As I settled into seat 84K, in the back of the economy section on the upper deck, I felt like I was on an A340-500 or -600 with a noticeably better and quieter takeoff performance. The 136 upstairs economy seats were in a 2-4-2 configuration, identical to a standard A330 and A340, with a comfortable 32-inch seat pitch. The only major difference compared with an A330/A340 was small luggage bins at the floor underneath the windows, similar to the floor bins you find in the upstairs of a 747.
At the front of the upstairs cabin were 64 standard business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration with 60-inch seat pitch. Launch customer Singapore Airlines (SIA) will equip its upstairs business class section in a roomier five-abreast configuration with 30-inch-wide seats that convert into flat beds.
Downstairs there were three economy sections in a 3-4-3 configuration with a total of 307 seats. At the front of the downstairs cabin, right in front of the cockpit, were 12 80-inch-long first-class seats in a six-abreast configuration. SIA plans to offer a roomier first class suite with only four seats abreast.
Downstairs reminded me of a typical 747-400 but noticeably roomier. Airbus says the downstairs cabin is 20 inches wider than a 747-400 or the new 747-8. Each economy seat is about 1 inch wider than a 747 economy seat and both aisles are also about 1 inch wider.
Airbus flew in journalists from around the world for the first media flight. Over the coming months more journalists will have the opportunity to fly in the aircraft, as well as airline employees, and existing and potential customers, as MSN 007 will be used throughout the world as a demonstration aircraft. “The intent is to show the world what this aircraft can do,” says Airbus vice president of marketing customer affairs Colin Stuart.
MSN 007 is one of only two A380s equipped with a full cabin. The other, MSN 002, in September completed four flights carrying a full load of Airbus employees who were selected by a lottery.
MSN 007 will eventually be converted into a production-calibre aircraft and delivered to Etihad Airways. MSN 007 has only flown 10 times before today, carrying exclusively Airbus personnel. Before being equipped with the current 519-seat cabin, the aircraft was equipped in a denser 853-seat configuration and was used last year to conduct an evacuation trial.
While impressive, the aircraft journalists flew in today is not quite a quantum leap over existing aircraft. But it could be if any of the A380 customers opt for some of the unique amenities that are available as options such as lounges and showers. One airline has opted for a small duty free shop but it does not seem anyone has yet opted up for a lounge.
There are two staircases in the A380, one at the front and the other at the tail. Upstairs on MSN 007 is what Airbus calls a “social area” seating about eight in a sofa-like configuration. These seats cannot be used during takeoff and landing. There is also a full-service bar in the main deck and a small self-service bar area at the back of the upstairs economy section. Airbus says all features on MSN007 are not representative of what airlines will offer on the A380, but are designed to inspire airlines to come up with new amenities using the space uniquely available on the A380.
A cabin crew rest area with 12 bunks is provided downstairs in the cargo bay with a ladder from mid-cabin. Airlines not wishing to compromise on cargo capacity can also opt for a crew bunk area upstairs. Pilots have their own bunks near the flight deck.
Carrying journalists from as far away as China and Japan, MSN 007 taxied out shortly after 1pm this afternoon and took off at 1:17pm with a takeoff weight of 364 tonnes. It landed at about 3:30pm with a weight of 340 tonnes, after cruising at 41,000ft and burning an average of 10 tonnes of fuel per hour.