Airbus A380 goes to Heathrow – oh yes, didn’t the Brits build some of it?

It’s a windswept day at Heathrow (more on that wind later) and the great British media is camped in the new Pier 6 at Terminal 3 ready for the A380′s first visit to the UK, let alone London.

Frankly it’s about time. The first of several A380 mega-events was the opening of the production building at Toulouse in May 2004 – I was there and remember vividly that the UK was effectively airbrushed out of the programme, receiving not a single mention all day. And certainly not in French Prime Minster Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s rambling speech about the state of French industry.

Then there was the famous “reveal” at Toulouse when British noses were again put out of joint when Airbus declined to have Rolls-Royce logos on the Trent engines. Followed by the first flight with no Brits in the crew.

As a reminder, British industry builds the wings and, for Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft, the engines – plus a host of sub-structures and sytems.

There’ll probably be trouble over this post, but I should point out that I’m basically Irish and more or less neutral about Anglo-European relations. The Franco-German domination of the A380 marketing effort is pretty heavy-handed though.

However, as BAE Systems is now trying to sell its Airbus stake to EADS, things are unlikely to change!

But at Heathrow everything is different. The day starts off with a wobble – BAA, whose airport it is, has been taken hopelessly by surprise by the media attention and makes seriously hard work of getting the press pack, never the chirpiest of groups on a Thursday morning, airside. But we get there in the end and morale picks up. There are actually rather a lot of media, a small part of which you can see below. And the rather more distinguished looking silver-haired gentleman in the middle of the picture is of course Emirates chairman Maurice Flanagan, who’s buying 45 A380s.


The Pier 6 building, specially constructed to accommodate the A380 at Heathrow, is impressive and should be able to embark and disembark 500+ passengers from A380s, using both decks simultaneously, in about the same time as a 747-400. (We shall see…)


There have been so many millions of words written about the A380, including by Flight International of course, that it’s becoming hard to think of new stories – but anyway there’s a press conference. with these gentlemen below.


L-R: Robert Swan, BAA head of major projects; Tony Douglas, Heathrow managing director; Charles Champion, Airbus chief operating officer and head of A380; Iain Gray, managing director Airbus UK; Fernando Alonso, VP Airbus flight test.

I’ve decided to ask my question (wake vortices) discreetly to the Airbus execs afterwards in the hope of a (very) minor scoop, but Kevin Done of the FT asks it instead and so the story’s going to be all over the British newspapers. Ho, hum…

Anyway, I’m primarily at Heathrow to act as an on-air interviewee for BBC World Service TV and BBC News 24. So now it’s off to the roof of the building to meet the crew. It’s blowing a gale, but happily not raining so we get stuck in.

The first bit is simple enough – 10 minutes or so live to the planet answering the World Service’s typically astute questions from Philippa Thomas.

 But after that it’s a long hour and a half in the wind trying to keep saying something intelligent about the A380. Philippa’s really good and has done some great research, so we somehow manage to keep going. Eventually the monotony is broken when UK chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown – the hot bet to succeed Tony Blair – turns up with industry minister Margaret Hodge to meet a dozen Airbus UK apprentices. Philippa seizes her chance for an interview.


And I seize mine for a picture. Brown’s minders eye my obviously non-professional camera suspiciously and try to get me thrown out. My BBC minder gives them a hard time in return and all is well.


Then the A380 is reported to be on finals. We all get ready and…a British Airways 747 lands. We relax. And then it really does start to happen. Phillipa and I are gabbling like lunatics (well, I am) and out of the corner of my eye I can see the A380 touching down. There is a great movie of the landing here. As you’ll see, there was a pretty fearsome and gusty crosswind leading to a less than elegant arrival – I’ll be interested to see what pilot Ed Strongman has to say about it when he is eventually asked – as he will be.

The aircraft taxys in flying a Union Jack flag - this Airbus picture below is much better than anything I could take – and arrives just behind us. We’re now yelling even louder over the noise of the wind and four Trent 900s.

A380 @ LHR2.jpg

At long last the aircraft moves into place on the ramp behind me and shuts down. There’s an Emirates 777 tucked behind it which gets the airline a few million pounds worth of free worldwide advertising. Maurice Flanagan swears to me it’s conincidence “although I don’t suppose we were in a hurry to move it” he concedes. Finally we can go back down inside.

I arrive downstairs in time to hear Brown congratulating everyone and celebrating a great day for British industry, European co-operation, etc, etc. Which it is of course. Once he’s done, so am I, and an hour later I’m sitting in London’s dire traffic with my head full of aeroplanes. Here are a few more pictures:




As ever I’m acutely conscious of having had a privileged view of the proceedings. But driving through Heathrow I pass hundreds of enthusiasts and spotters camped all over the airport at risk of being moved on by the police as they watch the A380. (Although quite a few are in the beer garden of The Green Man and not at risk at all of being moved on until closing time.) It’s not quite Concorde, but it still has a magic of its own and I’m sure there’s plenty of excitement to come.


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