A decade ago the double-decker A380 passenger jet made its first commercial flight from Singapore to Sydney to much fanfare. But the number of Airbus-owned carriers being produced has fallen short of expectations. What has gone wrong?
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Airbus delivers first A380
Europe's first superjumbo jet, the Airbus A380, has been handed over to Singapore Airlines at a ceremony in Toulouse, France, after almost two years of costly delays.
The double-decker is due to begin commercial flights late this month between Singapore and Sydney.This one will seat 471 passengers, but depending on its interior layout the world's largest airliner can carry up to 850 occupants.
Airbus chief Thomas Enders said he didn't expect further delays. Last year multiple problems such as faulty cabling led to a revised delivery schedule, a management shakeup, and a plan to slash 10,000 jobs at Airbus' European plants.
--> A further thirteen A380s are due to be delivered late this year, including four each to Emirates and Qantas. Airbus has 165 A380s on its order book. Rival Boeing says Airbus' superjumbo is oversized compared to its planned Dreamliner, a medium-size plane, that's also run into factory delays.
Late but Lavishly, A380 Makes Debut
TOULOUSE , France, Oct. 15 — There were no Jacuzzis or bowling alleys. No casinos or gyms. But the chilled bottle of Champagne perched on an elegantly laid-out double bed said it all.
Singapore Airlines introduced the interior of its first A380 superjumbo jet in an elaborate ceremony here today, bringing an end to a decade’s anticipation of what the airline has always said would mark a vast change in the level of quality and comfort in long-haul air travel.
“From today, there is a new queen of the skies for air travel,” a beaming Chew Choon Seng, the Singapore Airlines chief executive, told a gathering of more than 500 international guests.
And with that, Mr. Chew introduced the singular features of his carrier’s new 471-seat craft, which, in the premium-class cabin at least, sometimes resembles a luxury hotel rather than an airliner.
Twelve private “suites” created by the French yacht designer, Jean-Jacques Coste, occupy the front half of the plane’s lower deck. Designed to maximize privacy, these partitioned nooks are each fitted with fully adjustable leather seats and a separate bed that folds out with a full-sized mattress, draped in crisp cream-colored linens designed by Givenchy.
A 23-inch L.C.D. video screen hangs on one wall, where passengers can view a selection of up to 100 different movies and more than 180 television channels. The same entertainment system includes a word processor and spreadsheet programs as well as multiplayer 3-D video games.
As if to enhance the already high expectations of his audience, Mr. Chew explained that four of the suites in the center of the cabin can be modified to become double beds for couples traveling together, simply by removing the privacy divider between them.
In a demure hint at the plane’s honeymoon possibilities, the carrier had decked out one double bed with Champagne and scattered the duvet with red rose petals. The bed’s two seat belts — in case of unexpected turbulence — were discreetly hidden below the bedding.
Officially, of course, these beds are meant for sleeping only.
“We look forward to welcoming our premium-class guests for the purposes of travel and rest,” said Stephen Forshaw, a Singapore Airlines spokesman. “That is all.”
On the upper deck are 60 business-class seats, each almost 34 inches wide. These, too, convert into a fully flat bed and include 15-inch L.C.D. television screens, U.S.B. ports and in-seat power supplies for laptop computers.
The 399 economy-class seats spread across the back half of the upper and lower decks of the plane are designed to maximize leg and knee room. Each seat is equipped with an 11-inch video screen, a U.S.B. port and an electrical power port for laptops.
First- and business-class restrooms are roomy and feature shaving mirrors and an assortment of free toiletries. But Mr. Forshaw said the airline chose, for practical reasons, to forgo installing showers, which some rival airlines have said they would include.
“It would require us to carry too much water, which is just too heavy to be economical,” he said.
As guests marveled at the opulent interiors of the plane, which makes its first passenger flight on Oct. 25, the festivities were also an occasion for the plane’s beleaguered manufacturer, Airbus, to revel in a brief moment of celebration. The event followed nearly two years of corporate upheaval linked to the A380’s highly publicized manufacturing delays, which will cost Airbus nearly 5 billion euros ($7 billion) in lost profit between 2006 and 2010.
Thomas O. Enders, the Airbus chief executive, seemed to welcome the opportunity to change the subject from reports of a widening insider-trading investigation involving current and former executives of Airbus and its parent, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company. The inquiry by French stock market regulators comes as Airbus is struggling to carry out a vast corporate turnaround plan that foresees around 10,000 job cuts and the sale of as many as seven factories over the next four years.
“Today is an important milestone on a four-year recovery program,” Mr. Enders said. With the A380 already two years late and 50 percent over its initial $12 billion budget, Mr. Enders acknowledged that significant challenges remain for Airbus as it prepares to deliver the next 13 superjumbos to airline customers next year, followed by a near doubling of production to 25 craft a year in 2009. It plans to build 45 a year by the end of 2010.
Still, Mr. Enders said he was confident that Airbus would be up to the task.
“There is hard work ahead of us,” he conceded. “But everything we have accomplished so far gives us the confidence, the courage and the means to face the big ramp-up in 2008 and 2009. The A380 remains our utmost priority.”
Singapore Airlines will carry its first paying A380 passengers on Oct. 25 on a special flight from Singapore to Sydney. Tickets for both legs of that flight were auctioned separately over the summer on eBay, raising $1.3 million for Singapore and Australian charities.
The carrier will begin regular daily A380 service between Singapore and Sydney on Oct. 28, and tickets have already been on sale for several weeks. Mr. Forshaw said round-trip tickets for the suites on that route would cost around 7,500 Singapore dollars, or $5,127. Business-class seats will cost about 15 to 20 percent more than they do on other Singapore Airlines planes on comparable routes “because of the substantial amount of extra real estate” devoted to these seats, he said.
October and November are normally peak travel months on the so-called kangaroo route, which has helped to guarantee brisk ticket sales, Mr. Forshaw said.
The airline expects its second A380 to be delivered in January, and the airline plans to add daily A380 service to London by the end of the first quarter of 2008.
By March, it should be possible to fly all the way from London to Sydney on the A380 with a stop in Singapore.
With the delivery of its fourth A380 in April, Singapore Airlines plans to add daily service to Tokyo by May, and by the end of 2008, with its first six aircraft in hand, it will begin A380 service to Hong Kong and San Francisco.
For many long-time Airbus employees, today’s handover ceremony was an emotional milestone as well.
Jürgen Thomas, the retired head of the large aircraft division at Airbus whom some call the father of the A380, said he felt a bit like the father of a bride. “It’s like giving away your first daughter,” Mr. Thomas said.
Recalling the many sleepless nights during the height of the industrial crisis last year, Tom Williams, head of aircraft programs at Airbus, said he was relieved.
“I’ll probably sleep pretty good tonight,” he said.