Around 200 journalists boarded the fourth of five dedicated Airbus A380 test aircraft earlier today for the programme's first public flight. It comes as launch customer Singapore Airlines (SIA) confirms it Singapore-Sydney will be the first route to use the ultralarge airliner in revenue service, to be followed by Singapore-London.
At around 13:00 manufacturer's serial number 007 took off from Toulouse with journalists from several countries and media for a 2h flight over the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft (thought to have been given the registration F-WWJB in reference to its 007 serial number and nicknamed "James Bond" in Airbus circles) had previously been used for the April 2006 Hamburg evacuation trials, when it was kitted out with a high-density cabin incorporating 853 passenger seats.
The aircraft, which is expected eventually to be delivered to United Arab Emirates carrier Ethihad Airways, has now been refitted with an as-yet unseen fully-representative multiclass cabin understood to feature around 500 seats. MSN007 was due to be used in last-year's route-proving campaign, but was one of the casualties of the programme's delays, with MSN002 switched in to replace it.
images © Airbus
In September The A380 operated its first fully representative "passenger" flights when 474 people drawn from Airbus employees, suppliers and certification officials travelled on the ultra large aircraft during the four- flight early long flight (ELF) test programme (pictured above). As such, today's flight for MSN007 is the A380's first major passenger flight carrying non-programme-related personnel.
“We now expect to launch the first service at end of this year, with the inaugural London service commencing in early 2008,” SIA general manger of UK and Ireland Marvin Tan said last night at the carrier’s annual parliamentary reception in London.
SIA now operates three daily 747-400 flights between Singapore and London. Tan says SIA’s midnight flight from Singapore will be the first to receive the A380 because this flight now has higher load factors than its two daytime flights from Singapore to London. The overnight flight from Singapore lands in London early in the morning and departs London just before noon, arriving in Singapore early the following morning.
Tan says SIA will now transition all seven frequencies in one swoop. Initially three weekly frequencies will likely be operated with the A380, followed by five and finally seven.
Tan says the long-term plan is for SIA to operate A380s on all three of its daily Singapore-London flights and all three of its daily Singapore-Sydney flights. But Tan says when this is achieved depends on the delivery schedule. He says for aircraft scheduling reasons other routes will have to receive some A380 frequencies before London-Singapore-Sydney is totally converted to A380s.
“Once we convert our three daily London flights to A380s we can offer as many seats as it would take four 747s to provide, while moving to new, cleaner quieter technology,” Tan says.
“Despite its size the A380 is an environmentally-friendly aircraft with new fuel efficient technology and a noise footprint half of the Boeing 747. Its deployment also enables us to increase capacity at crowded airports such as Heathrow and satisfy demand, while being 20% more fuel efficient. For us that’s important. We can use the A380 to grow capacity into London without needing to increase the number of flights.”