Almost eight years since its first flight, and little more than five years after its commercial debut with Singapore Airlines, Airbus delivered its one-hundredth A380 over the weekend when Malaysia Airlines flew the factory-fresh double-decker out of Toulouse, France.
The mighty A380 has so quickly become part of today’s travelscape, and such a familiar sight at many airports, that it’s sometimes surprising to reflect that it’s such a ‘young’ aircraft and is flown by only nine airlines, even though Airbus has another nine airlines signed up on the A380 order sheet.
While Airbus began planning an all-new ‘ultrahigh-capacity airliner’ in 1988, uncertainty over the viability of a jet which was substantially bigger than the world’s then-largest commercial airliner – the Boeing 747 – meant a six-year delay until the decision to proceed with what was then codenamed the A3XX.
The 'WOW' factor
UK design firm PriestmanGoode – which has since crafted real A380 cabins for Lufthansa and MAS – created an aptly-named ‘WOW’ mockup of the A3XX's interior to showcase its potential for airlines, while Airbus teased several unique ways to make the most of the superjumbo’s cavernous interior.
One was to convert part of the baggage hold in to a swish ‘below decks’ VIP lounge and cocktail bar, as shown in this excerpt from a 2003 Airbus sales brochure.
This page from the same brochure spruiks how the first class cabin could look (including real curtains over the windows)...
... while the suggestions of inflight bars, lounges and duty-free shops have all come to fruition courtesy of several different A380 airlines..
The current crop of Airbus' promotional photos to tempt prospective buyers of the $375m superjumbo are quite eye-catching.
Here's a generic private suite from the outside...
... and on the inside.
The mockup allows just one cabin at either side of the A380's upper deck, with the central area boasting lounges and coffee tables where passengers can socialise.
Business class treatments include this 1-2-1 layout where every row alternates between the outboard seats being at the window or the aisle, while the centre seats are nestled next to each other or separated (a model adopted by Thai Airways on its A380s).
Another alternative is the increasingly-popular herringbone layout...
... which these days has to convert into a fully lie-flat bed.
From A3XX to A380
Airbus gave the superjumbo its A380 moniker in December 2000, and also named six ‘launch customers’ – among them Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates.
However, it wasn’t until April 27th, 2005 that the first A380 took to the skies on a four-hour test flight from Toulouse. The first commercial flight came over two years later, in October 2007, with Singapore Airlines’ inaugural ‘SQ380’ service between Singapore and Sydney.
Qantas followed in October 2008 with its first A380 flight between Melbourne and Los Angeles.
Showers, lounges and superloos...
With almost 50% more floor space than the Boeing 747-400, the A380 snatched the trophy as the world’s largest commercial aircraft.
All the space provides plenty of scope for airlines to play with. Korean Air has the lowest number of seats on any A380, with just 407 seats, while the Air France superjumbo tops out at 538 seats.
(Fitted with only economy seats from tip to tail on both decks, the A380 could manage a sardine-like squeeze of 853 travellers.)
Most airlines flying an A380 try to do something a little different – or in some cases plenty different - from the rest of the superjumbo club.
Emirates (above) and Singapore Airlines (below) both jumped at the chance to adopt plush first-class suites.
Singapore Airlines raised the bar by fitting each suite with an armchair and standalone bed, rather than a seat that converts into a bed.
A final flourish which can truly put the romance back into flying: the paired suites in the centre can be turned into a shared suite with a double bed.
Emirates opted to add a bar at the rear of the top deck…
… plus inflight showers where first-class travellers can wash away that grimy feeling and arrive feeling fresh.
Each of the two ‘shower suites’ can be booked for 30 minutes and afford a strictly-timed a five minute flow of water; the airline’s crew clean the shower suite prior to each session.
Other top-end touches include wardrobes, a large sink with marble counter top, hair dryer and even a flat-panel TV.
Lufthansa opted to give its superjumbo a superloo created by Hamburg design firm Mueller/Romca. The spacious first-class bathroom boasts a large well-lit mirror, quality fittings and finish and the overall design aesthetic you'd expect for first class travel.
The kicker is a men's urinal is concealed behind a sliding shell. Mueller/Romca reasoned that this not only add conveniences for male passengers but it improves hygiene in the overall toilet area to the benefit of all passengers.
Thai Airways' A380 also boasts a lush first-class lav.
Other A380 airlines, such as Qantas, opted for a more open design in first class. While also tagged as 'suites', these afford a sense of privacy without being completely closed off.
Qantas is also among the many airlines to utilise the long skinny upper-deck space next to the stairwell for a lounge alcove.
... and a duty-free shop, too
Korean Air went all-out with two lounges for its premium passengers.
The first, towards the A380's nose, is a small area where you can gather for a chat or just to stretch your legs.
At the back of the upper deck you'll find the more spacious and salubrious Celestial Lounge cocktail bar.
Downstairs, at the rear of the lower deck, is the world's first inflight duty free shop (well, it’s officially more of a ‘showcase’ officially, as you can't actually buy the goods directly at the counter).
It’s lined with high-end cosmetics, perfumes and liquor to catch the eye and prise open the wallet or purse.
Installing this showcase meant that Korean Air had to forego 13 economy seats.
But according to Chris Whetter, whose aircraft interior firm AIM Aviation designed the space, while losing 13 seats also means "you're losing a lot of revenue, the Korean mentality is that they buy all the duty free on every flight”, so the airline can still come out ahead.
The rich man's ride: an A380 as your private jet
Among the one hundred A380s sold to date, several have gone into the private hands of Middle East royalty, super-rich oil sheiks or eccentric multi-millionaires for whom the average private jet just isn't good enough or big enough.
Lufthansa Technik, a division of Germany's national carrier Lufthansa, oversees the customisation of commercial jetliners for private use, which starts with these suggested floorplans for your superjumbo.
Downstairs on the main deck, the extra width of the A380 can accommodate a boardroom, several large lounge areas and lots of open space.
Things get more intimate on the slightly narrower upper deck, with curving corridors leading to private bedrooms, private sitting areas, full bathrooms, offices and a well-equipped kitchen.
At the same time as your designers are choosing the floorplan, they'll start sketching out the architectural details of each space.
Here are some actual VIP mockups, courtesy of Lufthansa Technik.
There's nothing to give away that this ante-room could be 40,000 feet above sea level.
Fancy a palatial bedroom at the pointy end? No problem.
Next-gen A380 to fly further, longer
So what’s next for the A380?
This year the superjumbo gets a mid-life upgrade with design and engineering tweaks to boost its performance efficiency and extend its range by 190km – in theory, enough to make a direct Sydney-New York flight possible.
British Airways and Emirates will be the first airlines to receive the improved A380, with Qantas due to receive six of them from 2016-2017.
But there are even bigger things are to come. Airbus says that a supersized superjumbo capable of carrying 1,000 passengers remains on the drawing board for launch in 2020.
Known as the A380-900, this stretched version of the current A380-800 was shelved in May 2010 due to poor demand.
"We have a design for the A380-900 which can be reactivated at the appropriate time" Bob Lange, Airbus vice-president of marketing for the A380, told Australian Business Traveller when we visited Airbus HQ in Toulouse late last year.
"My best estimate of that appropriate time at the moment (to enter service) would probably be at the beginning of the next decade."
Also read: The world’s shortest Airbus A380 flights
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