This week saw the latest A380 go into service, the 20th in production. Air France became the first European airline commercially to fly the plane. It is using the mammoth aircraft on the Paris to New York route.
AF joins Singapore, Emirates and Qantas in the exclusive club of airlines who have actually received their A380s, albeit years late. Those still waiting to join the merry band heard disappointing news at the show. Airbus bosses admitted that they were still having difficulty producing the planes in volume because of customized changes individual airlines demanded on the early models.
As a result, Airbus will be hard pushed to deliver 20 A380s next year. For a project already billions over budget, it means further cost overruns.
Having flown on the A380 several times, I think of it more as a whale than a jumbo, and just like the biblical parallel, this whale swallows up people, moves them vast distances and then spits them out at the other side of the world. If you look at the numbers of passengers the whale is carrying, we also get a great look at the problems of aviation today.
Air Austral made aviation history at the Dubai Air Show when it confirmed its order for two A380s. Never heard of Air Austral? It is a little carrier which flies people to Reunion, that part of France in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Reunion has a growing tourism industry and is keen to increase the number of seats to bring people to the paradise island.
So, Air Austral has become the first airline to order the A380 in Single class configuration. That’s a posh way of saying they are going to shoehorn as many economy passengers as they can onto the plane..a whopping 840 passengers will be accommodated for the 10 hour flight from Paris to St. Denis.
Yes, you read that right. 840 passengers. On Air Austral’s planes, There will be none of the First Class Double beds of Singapore Airlines. None of the showers on Emirates, or the bars on Air France and Qantas. Just a lot of passengers being moved from A to B.
I have never seen 840 people on an aircraft, and I am not sure I want to. Safety is not the problem. Airbus proved in 2006 that the plane could be evacuated of 873 passengers and crew in just 77 seconds. (One man broke his leg and there were numerous other minor cuts and bruises.) No, I just shudder at the thought of being stuck on a plane for that long with that many people. 840 hot, sweaty, tired and cranky passengers does not conjure up, what Singapore Airlines likes to call “The romance of travel.
Actually, if you look at the number of seats on the A380, most carriers are way below that maximum number. Qantas has the lowest number at 450 passengers across four classes. Singapore is next at 471, Emirates comes in at 489 on the ultra long range routes. Air France is less generous with space, so manages to get 538 passengers on board.
For all the airlines running this plane, the goal is to get the right balance between First, Business, Premium Economy (where it exists) and those poor buggers sitting at the back. Airlines make a lot more money on those expensive beds at the front.they are just much harder to sell in the midst of the Great Recession.
What I find really fascinating is how this new Whale of the Skies has become so similar to the old ocean liners that crossed the waters beneath in years gone by. Awe inspiring in their size, and class ridden from front to back. Nothing really changes
In the end we always knew that the most extravagant promises of bars, casinos and gyms were more for public relations than passengers. But the reality of the A380 is that it has ushered in a new form of travel and those airlines that have introduced it so far have at least made an effort to “do something different.
Even Air Austral. When it finally gets its A380 it will really be a case “All aboard . 840 times. On second thoughts, save a seat for me. I have to try this whale of a way to travel.at least once. Just once.
Tune in toRichard Quest each weekday at 9 pm Cairo (9 pm Kuwait, 9 pm Riyadh, 10 pm Dubai) on Quest Means Business. For more information go to www.cnn.com/qmb.