British Airways will reinforce its Airbus A380 crew complement by putting the double-deck type on short-haul routes to maximise pilot training and build up a core of instructors.

While the UK flag carrier has yet to disclose its initial long-haul route plans, it will operate the A380 on European services at first to enable its pilots to fly about four sectors daily.

BA will commission a simulator at London Heathrow in January 2013 - the L-3 Link device is undergoing tests near Gatwick - giving the carrier a six-month window to train before its first aircraft arrives in July.

This aircraft, MSN95, has been fitted with its Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines and has been undergoing fuel tests at Toulouse while BA's second example, MSN121, arrived at the final assembly line on 13 October. BA has 12 A380s on order and expects to have a corps of some 20 pilots per aircraft.

"All pilots going on to this aircraft will have had previous Airbus experience," says BA's A380 entry-into-service manager Capt James Basnett.

While the airline will draw crews from its long-haul fleets, it does not operate long-haul Airbus types. It will complement the A380 corps with short-haul Airbus A320 crews, to give the airline "a bit of a balance", says Basnett. He adds that the carrier is following advice from Oneworld partner and fellow A380 operator Qantas, which recommends pilots on the type should have logged time on fly-by-wire aircraft.

Pilots on the Boeing fleet who switch to the A380 will need about six or seven weeks of ground school - other crews will require about a month - combined with simulator training and line flying.

Four initial BA pilots have been trained on the A380 and the carrier will also fly with some crews from Airbus for about three months, to reinforce the instructor ranks. "We'll build up a core group of instructors," says Basnett.

Air France temporarily deployed its A380s on short-haul services between London and Paris during introduction of the type, partly to aid pilot training but also to prevent the aircraft remaining idle for extended periods between scheduled long-haul services.

BA has yet to indicate which routes will be used for crew training but could include Madrid, the base for its International Airlines Group sister company Iberia. BA's position as the largest user of Boeing 747-400s - it has 52 in service - also gives it plenty of scope for potential A380 routes.

Among the 747 routes on which BA deploys the most capacity are New York JFK, Singapore, Johannesburg, Hong Kong and other US gateways, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Boston. London Heathrow already has a dozen A380 services operated daily by Emirates, Qantas, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news