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VIDEO: Air France debuts A380 on South African route

Air France's third Airbus A380 will also be deployed on its Johannesburg service before the French flag-carrier turns to Tokyo as its next route for the aircraft.

The airline is to reduce frequency to a daily rotation on the Johannesburg route from Paris this month, capitalising on the 538-seat A380's increased capacity.

"Luckily this aircraft has arrived at just the right time as a 'crisis buffer'," says Air France-KLM chief Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, who attended the inaugural A380 service to South Africa.

"In every way the A380 will help us withstand the crisis and cushion its effects. In the longer term it will, I'm sure, be remembered as being a ground-breaking new way to travel from South Africa to Europe and beyond."

The A380's features include a video-screen art gallery in the forward upper deck, an in-flight entertainment system offering 600 hours' viewing choice - and the option for passengers in different seat to chat to one another - plus six bars on the two decks, and a changing cabin for first-class 'La Premiere' passengers.

Arrival of the A380 on 18 February marked the second time the type had landed at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, following compatibility trials in November 2006.

The hub's operator, Airports Company South Africa, has invested over R200 million ($26 million) in runway shoulder and taxiway widening, apron development, boarding gates and baggage-handling facilities to deal with the A380.

"The aircraft will become a regular feature in our operations at the airport and I am confident that we will be able to handle it without any hassles," says a spokesman for Airports Company South Africa.

Johannesburg has installed four contact gates with dual airbridges as well as two 90m (300ft) luggage carousels. OR Tambo Airport general manager Chris Hlekane says the first bags from the inaugural A380 flight were on the carousel in 17min.

South Africa's hosting of the World Cup football tournament will increase pressure but the airport's operator says the A380 will enable "efficient use of our infrastructure".

Air France is planning to increase capacity to South Africa for the World Cup period, with three additional weekly flights in June and July, to be operated with Boeing 777s.

South Africa will remain the most prominent Air France-KLM destination for the SkyTeam company, with the two airlines offering 21 weekly flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town this summer.

Tokyo will become the next A380 route for Air France when its fourth double-deck aircraft is delivered in April.

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