Friday, October 26, 2007

Monster Takes First Commercial Flight

The world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, landed in Sydney yesterday after its first commercial flight, a seven-hour journey from Singapore. Singapore Airlines took delivery of the monster plane, dubbed the Superjumbo, just over a week ago.

It can carry some 850 passengers, but took about 450 to Sydney. One of the passengers on board, Laurence Watts, described the experience " have two classes of economy, split over two decks, with stairs in between the two, which I think is a huge novelty for everyone. The plane itself - the space is bigger than anything you can imagine. I can look out the window to my right at the moment and I can see a wing that looks bigger than most ordinary planes."

Passengers bought seats in a charity online auction. Passengers paid between $560 and (get this) $100,380 to be on the inaugural flight. "I have never been in anything like this in the air before in my life," said a fellow passenger, Australian Tony Elwood, who travelled in a private first-class suite with his wife Julie. Perhaps he was the guy who paid $100,000!. "It is going to make everything else after this simply awful."

With the superjumbo's wing span almost the size of a football pitch, Sydney Airport has spent millions to accommodate the new plane. To cope with the two decks of seating, it has had to construct new aero bridges. It has also had to realign one of the taxi ways and strengthen a tunnel which runs underneath the main runway.

Singapore Airlines is now set to take delivery of a further five A380s in 2008, out of its order of 19. In total, Airbus now has 165 firm orders for the A380, and 20 "commitments" from 15 airlines. However, some analysts remain unconvinced that the plane will be a success.

Standard & Poor's Equity Research analyst Shukor Yusof points to the fact Airbus' US rival Boeing already has more than 700 orders for its forthcoming 787 Dreamliner. While Airbus sees the future growth of air travel being focused on larger planes such as the A380 flying between major hubs, Boeing is aiming the mid-sized 787 at more flights between airports of all sizes.

"I see there's some demand for the A380, but it's an expensive way to address a small market," said Mr Yusof. Boeing's 787 has also been hit by production delays, with the first deliveries now not due until the end of next year, six months behind schedule.

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