When it comes to aircraft size Virgin Atlantic chairman Sir Richard Branson has a one-track mind. "I believe big is beautiful," he told a joint press conference with Airbus and Rolls-Royce to showcase the first of the airline's 10 Trent 500-powered A340-600s. "It is the only way to drive down the cost of air travel for economy-class customers."
The ‘big is best' theme is being driven home by both Virgin and Airbus on posters at the show and on the four-engined aircraft itself. Whether it is stressing the 300-seater A340's size – "Mine's bigger than yours" runs the catchline – or its four-engines – "4 engines 4 long haul" – Branson and Airbus president Noël Forgeard were eager to show off their big baby.
"Two to three years ago we were trying to decide whether to go with the Boeing 777 or the A340-600," says Branson. "There were various different reasons why we chose the A340: the engines are built in the UK, our engineers said they would be magnificent; a lot of the aircraft is built in the UK at British Aerospace (Forgeard later corrected Branson with this company's correct name of Airbus UK); and it is a European airplane.
"Also with the four engines, even though they can sometimes cost a little bit more, on long-haul routes the long-term economics are better to with four rather than two engines." In its research Virgin has found 18% of travellers would "go out of their way" to fly on four-engined aircraft, said Branson.
However, while the focus was on its relationship with Airbus at the show, Branson is only too aware of the need to keep a competitive market between the manufacturers. "It is very unwise in the airline industry to have just one bride, you need two brides. We still have a good relationship with Boeing and will continue to buy 747-400s from them."
On future aircraft types, Branson believes the "A380 is the way of the future just as Boeing thought the 747 was the way of future". With the scarcity of landing and take-off slots at the world's main airports, the need for larger aircraft to use them is imperative.
On Boeing's proposed 250-seater Sonic Cruiser, he says: "It is an admirable idea, but we can't get the slots at airports to operate them in that way."
Virgin's first A340-600 is expected to enter service at the end of July where it will operate to New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Since the beginning of the year, Airbus has won 12 orders for the type from Spain's Iberia (3), leasing giant ILFC (6) and South African Airways (3).
Source: Flight Daily News