What's it like to be on board a plane that carries 500-600 passengers? Today was media day for the A380 and BW's Carol Matlack was among about 200 journalists who took a two-hour test flight over the Pyrenees and Bay of Biscay. It wasn't exactly a real-life test (when's the last time you were in a plane that was less than half full?), but Matlack says that the experience is definitely different. From BW:
Surprisingly, it's not the double-decker configuration that makes the strongest impression. Because passengers on each deck board through a separate jetway, the view upon entering looks a lot like the cabin of any widebody plane. It definitely feels roomier, though. The A380's main cabin is 20 inches wider than the Boeing 747's, though both planes typically have economy passengers seated 10 across. The upper deck isn't as wide, as the fuselage narrows toward the top of the plane. Upper-deck economy class had only eight seats across, but it still felt spacious.
Another big difference is the noise—or lack of it. The four huge Rolls-Royce engines on our plane seemed to emit little more than a low hum, even during takeoff when engine noise is usually most noticeable. It was easy to talk to passengers across the aisle and in adjoining rows without raising your voice. Landing was surprisingly quiet, too; we could barely hear the landing gear descend. The plane also felt comfortingly stable, even as we encountered what the pilot said were 20- to 30-knot winds as we prepared to land at Toulouse. Perhaps the most striking difference was the view out the window. The A380's wings are quite long, almost 20% longer than the 747's. And they are flexible, bending almost four meters during takeoff and landing maneuvers. As we taxied for takeoff, we passed an A340—Airbus' second-biggest plane—on the runway. It looked tiny.
Sound good? Well, it'll be a while before these monsters are in service. The first plane (Singapore Airlines) is scheduled to start service in October and only 13 planes are expected to be ready in 2008 - when Qantas will have the first A380 service out of LAX. The airport is spending $53 million to accommodate the plane, but that's just for openers. Allan McArtor, chairman of U.S. subsidiary Airbus North America Holdings Inc., spoke to the Business Journal (subscription) a couple of weeks ago:
Question: Why do you think LAX should spend money to upgrade its facilities to accommodate the A380?
Answer: Many of the major carriers are the ones that want to bring their flagship A380 airplanes into LAX. It’s projected to be second only to London’s Heathrow Airport with the highest concentration of 380 operations. That’s where the carriers want to fly. And it is one of the major commercial nodes around the globe. Now L.A. can continue to be the crown jewel in that or not. Currently, L.A. is prepared to handle A380 operations for the first two years. The risk is that after the first two years, the next carrier that wants to come in here will be told they will be put at the remote terminal. The carrier may say, ‘No, I’m not going to put that kind of airplane into L.A. for that kind of service.’ And they will take that capacity into some other airport. That’s to your community’s detriment if they make those kinds of choices.
Q: If remote terminals are unacceptable, what can LAX do to accommodate A380 traffic beyond the first two years?
A: There is an opportunity with Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 to put two to three to four gates in those terminals and to link it in with customs and immigration – not the best, but better than busing passengers to and from remote terminals. There’s a lot of unused capacity in some of the terminals on the south side of the airport, so you need to move some of the domestic carriers to other available spaces and try to keep your international flights at facilities that can have customs and immigration. But even if they upgrade T2 and T3 with all the improvements we’re suggesting, they’ve only met capacity for the current A380 orders through 2013.