It shouldn’t just be planespotters who get excited about new airliners – agents and operators should too, because they are good selling points.
New additions to an airline’s fleet generally mean state-of-the-art entertainment systems, more comfortable seating, bar and lounge areas for the lucky few in the premium cabins and, in some cases, Wi-Fi throughout. A shiny new aircraft can also put nervous fliers at rest compared with one that is showing its age, and there is a novelty factor and bragging rights that appeal to all.
The double decker Airbus A380 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner are still making the news a few years after their launch. Because of its limited uses, the giant Airbus has attracted a disappointing 318 orders from 19 customers, while the smaller and more versatile 787 has more than 1,000 orders from nearly 60 buyers.
The Middle Eastern carriers made the A380 viable, with Emirates alone ordering 140. If clients want to fly on it, there are now quite a few opportunities from the UK. Currently, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and British Airways fly it from Heathrow. All Emirates, Malaysia Airlines and Qantas flights from Heathrow are on the A380, while others are a mix. Emirates also uses the A380 on one of its threedaily Manchester and Gatwick flights.
BA offers the aircraft on some frequencies to Los Angeles (BA268/9), Washington (BA216/7), Singapore (BA11/12 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), Hong Kong (BA25/26) and Johannesburg (BA55/56).
Etihad will become the 13th A380 airline when it debuts the aircraft at Heathrow on December 27. It has firm orders for 10 of the aircraft and puts a second of these on the London route on March 1. Emirates has showers in its first-class A380 cabin, but Etihad will go the whole hog with The Residence, a 125-square-foot three-room space that includes a double bed and ensuite bathroom. All passengers get the latest Panasonic high-definition entertainment system, Wi-Fi and mobile access.
Qatar Airways introduced the A380 to the Heathrow run in October (QR3/4) and places another on the route in December. From January 5, the aircraft also serves one of the airline’s Doha-Bangkok frequencies (QR833/836). One neat touch is that the aircraft’s Thales in-flight system allows passengers to watch a film on the main screen and follow flight progress on the handset, ensuring you make time to finish the movie.
Anyone who really wants to get their money’s worth on the A380 needs to fly on Emirates from Dubai to Los Angeles, when the non-stop experience will last 16 hours and 20 minutes – enough time to really enjoy the entertainment system.
Closer to home for those connecting from the UK regions, Air France and Lufthansa also offer opportunities to fly the super jumbo. From Paris, Air France will use the aircraft on its AF090 and AF099 services to and from Miami as of December 1. It is already on the AF187/188 to Hong Kong, AF111/116 to Shanghai, AF006/7 to New York, AF28/39 to Washington and AF990/995 to Johannesburg.
In October, Lufthansa introduced the A380 to Delhi on the LH760/1. It also flies it to Shanghai (LH728/9), Houston (LH440/1), Johannesburg (LH572/3), Miami (LH462/3), San Francisco (LH454/5) and Singapore (LH778/9).
The A380 is used on trunk routes between hub airports that attract a lot of passengers – typically around 500 per flight – and is particularly useful at Heathrow, where take-off slots are precious. The 787 is smaller, seating 210-300 depending on type, and consequently more flexible.
BA used the aircraft to start its Heathrow-Austin route early this year, but the loads mean it will upgrade to the larger Boeing 777 from winter 2015/16. BA then switches the 787 on to Montreal and Seoul when demand is lower during the winter.
BA, Thomson and Virgin Atlantic were among those quick to spot the 787’s uses, as it consumes around 20% less fuel than the 767 it replaces. BA’s fly on eight routes, including some frequencies to New York, Toronto and Chennai. Thomson bought the aircraft with the intention of opening up new destinations and next year reintroduces Costa Rica, believing the aircraft’s economics will make a programme dropped in 2010, after just one winter, now viable. Its long-haul fleet is now all-787.
Further proof of the 787’s economics came when Norwegian Air Shuttle launched its budget flights to the US from Gatwick in March. Many questioned the viability of budget long-haul, but Norwegian’s increase in frequencies to New York and Los Angeles next year seems to have proved this wrong.
The 787’s larger windows, greater humidity and hi-tech entertainment systems have proved a hit with passengers, and while Norwegian, BA and Thomson have opted for the 787-8, which seats around 240, Virgin has bought the 787-9, which is 20 feet longer and flies up to 40 more passengers. The airline became Europe’s first carrier to operate the 787-9 in October, placing the first of 16 on the Boston route. They will next appear on some flights to Washington and Newark. One new feature is onboard Wi-Fi, although this costs £14.99 per flight.
Others flying the 787 from the UK include AeroMexico, Royal Jordanian, Air India, Royal Brunei and Ethiopian Airlines. The latter is being very bold in opening an Addis Ababa-Dublin-Los Angeles connection with the 787 in June, flying three times a week and offering Dublin’s only direct route to the US city.
Boeing plans to further stretch the 787, producing the 787-10, with first deliveries from 2018. It will carry 300-330 passengers, replacing the smallest of the 777 types and Airbus A340s while promising a whopping 25% fuel saving. Singapore Airlines has 30 on order, United Airlines 20 and BA 12. The 787 king, however, will be Etihad, with 71 on order, including 30 of the largest type.
The 787’s popularity proves that two engines are now the norm for long-haul, except on routes with very high demand, where the A380’s extra capacity helps. This leaves little room for the jumbo jet, which is being phased out by many airlines.
A bid by Boeing to revive the 747 has not been very successful, with sales of the stretched version – the 747-8 – at only around 50 to passenger airlines since 2006. Lufthansa now has the bulk of the 20 it ordered and Air China has just taken the first of five. Korean Air gets its first next year and Russia’s Transaero is also a customer.
The new 747-8 is an attractive proposition for premium passengers, as the “bubble” upstairs is now bigger than before but more intimate than the A380’s business-class cabin. Frankfurt is the place to go if you want to fly on one, as Lufthansa uses the 747-8 on 11 routes, the eastward ones being Hong Kong, Bengaluru, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo Haneda.
Air China will operate its first 747-8 from Beijing to JFK and San Francisco from January 2, with business class occupying the entire upper deck and with first-class and premium-economy cabins.
Airbus A350 XWB
Early 2015 sees the latest new aircraft type, the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) enter scheduled service. Qatar Airways has this honour, as again does Frankfurt, from mid-January. The first will be the QR67/68, followed shortly after by the QR69/70.
The A350 twinjet is similar in size and composite construction to Boeing’s 787, meaning it will also offer greater humidity and bigger windows. Qatar’s will seat 36 in business class and 247 in economy. The airline has 80 on order, with the first eight from the factory joining it next year. Vietnam Airlines and Finnair are next, with the Vietnamese carrier likely to operate it to Gatwick in 2015. Finnair will use them on Asia routes from Helsinki.