Airbus and airline launch support programme to smooth introduction into service of 311-seater at month-end

Virgin Atlantic expects to take delivery of its first Airbus A340-600 this week. The aircraft will immediately be used for training and familiarisation ahead of service entry at the end of the month. Airbus and Virgin have put an extensive support programme in place to ensure the new aircraft's introduction runs smoothly.

The delivery of the first of 10 of the Rolls-Royce Trent 500-powered aircraft to Virgin is later than scheduled. Deliveries are running around four weeks late "due to a combination of reasons", says Virgin's director of engineering Jeff Livings. "There are lots of new systems and suppliers."

Service entry is due on 29 July, on daily services between London Heathrow and New York Kennedy. The second aircraft, originally due in early August, is now expected at the end of next month and will enable Tokyo to be added to the-600's network. Deliveries should be back on schedule with the fourth aircraft in November, by which time Hong Kong will also be served.

"We need the second -600 for operational flexibility," says Livings. "We have built flexibility into the first aircraft's programme, by giving it a fairly gentle ramp-up and quite a few rest days." Virgin operates 10 of the smaller A340-300 model. Livings says initial bookings for the 311-seat -600 will be sold at the capacity of the -300 (with 56 fewer seats) "in case we have to make an equipment swap".

Although Livings does not expect "any horrendous technical problems", the airline and manufacturer have introduced a series of measures to support the early flights. "We will have up to 10 representatives from Airbus and major suppliers at Heathrow - we've invited people to monitor their part of the aircraft," says Livings.

Airbus has also ensured that its engineers at outstations where the -600 will be initially operated have been trained on the new model. "At New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, a trained engineer will be at the airport every day that the aircraft is there," says Livings.

A maintenance control operation has been set up at Airbus's Toulouse headquarters, with dedicated teams to provide support and ensure minimum response time.

Livings says the aircraft is "meeting all expectations as contracted". Flexing of the forward fuselage during turbulence will be cured by modifying flight management computer (FMC) software. "Accelerometers are being installed in the engine pylons, which will send inputs via the FMC to the ailerons and rudder to damp out the turbulence," says Livings.

Source: Flight International