British Airways' method of dealing with the traffic crunch at Heathrow is good news for Airbus and Boeing, but it's not a long-term solution for consumers.
The first of a new generation of British Airways doubledecker superjumbos has arrived at Heathrow, bringing the promise of the quieter, fuel-efficient flying sought by passengers, airlines, and the airport’s neighbours alike.
The 469-seat Airbus A380, the first to be owned by a UK airline, was signed over in a ceremony at the manufacturer’s Toulouse airport base before departing for London.
Airbus claims that the giant planes, with an upper deck six feet wider than the Boeing 747s they will replace, will each save the airline £100m in fuel costs over their lifetimes. The fuel bill for one long-haul flight runs into six figures and the A380 is said to be 16% more efficient.
More significantly for those under the flightpath, the A380’s “noise footprint” on landing at Heathrow – the area greatly affected by noise disturbance – is claimed to be a quarter of that of a 747.
Heathrow charges lower landing fees to quieter aircraft and is continuing to develop stands and taxiways to accommodate the A380s.
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s sustainability director, said the aircraft would contribute to noise reduction and that noise now affected fewer people around the airport than at any time since the 1970s, despite flight numbers having almost doubled.
Keith Williams, the chief executive of BA, told crew and passengers: “You’re part of the future.”
Both BA and Heathrow believe the aircraft will transform aviation – including the fraught debate over additional runways at London’s hub airport. BA has ordered 12 A380s. Four other airlines already operate the planes out of Heathrow.
Williams said: “These aircraft are the start of a new era for British Airways. Over the next 15 months, we will take delivery of new aircraft at the rate of one a fortnight as we put ourselves at the forefront of modern aviation.
“The A380 is a fantastic aircraft and an excellent showpiece for British engineering. Our customers are going to love the space, light and comfort on board.”
BA is unlikely to have secured the same discount on the $403m (£265m) list price obtained by the earliest adopters, but takes delivery after Airbus has resolved the problems of cracks in the wings that grounded several A380s in 2012.
Fabrice Brégier, the chief executive of Airbus, said it was a “very proud moment” and significant for the image of Airbus, marking the first longhaul aircraft the European manufacturer has supplied to a previously entirely Boeing-made BA longhaul fleet.
He said that BA, which has ordered 12 A380s as well as 18 A350s, the plane that made its first test flight last month, was among its top 10 customers but added, with a Gallic dash, that it was much higher “in our hearts” – a notable change from the once frosty relationship between Airbus and BA.
Brégier said that the constraints of Heathrow, where the limit on takeoffs and landings has been reached, meant that more airlines would be looking to the capacity offered by the superjumbo.
Airbus’s chief operating officer, John Leahy, speaking aboard the flight from Toulouse, said that 40% of the A380 was British-made and that Airbus was sustaining 100,000 jobs in the wider supply chain. Around 4,500 people in Britain worked directly on the A380. BA has also chosen Trent-900 engines made by Rolls-Royce in Derby.
The flight touched down at Heathrow just after 10.30am, with the pilot, Captain James Basnett, telling passengers that the flight was making aviation history, adding: “Ladies and gentlemen, you have never seen a bigger smile on the face of a captain in your life.”
The plane was met by 380 British Airways employees at a hangar in Heathrow.
BA’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliners – carbon-fibre planes which are much smaller than the A380 but with a similar range and fuel efficiency – arrived at Heathrow last week, making BA the first airline in Europe to operate both of the pioneering planes.
The A380’s first passenger flight will be to Los Angeles on 24 September.
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Photo credit: A British Airways jumbo plane flies in to land at Heathrow Airport in west London. Toby Melville / Reuters