Category Archives: Inaugurals and First Flights

Flashback to 2012: The Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental Enters Service!

By: Chris Sloan / Published: June 3, 2016

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Airways. This week marks the 4th Anniversary of the 747-8 I inaugural on June 1, 2012. As of now, over 100 747-8s have been delivered, mostly to freight carriers, with just three operators operating the Intercontinental version: Lufthansa is the largest with 19 aircraft, followed by Korean Air (5 out of 10 ordered) and Air China (7). Instead, High Fuel prices of the era, a soft global economy, and enhanced capabilities of big Twins have doomed the 747-8’s order backlog as a freighter and a passenger carrying airplane, which so far has decreased its production rate to just six aircraft per year.


Flight LH416, from Frankfurt to Washington (Dulles), was under the command of Captain Elmar Boje (LH 747 chief pilot), with Capts Carsten Asmus and Christian Krauss. I was fortunate to be onboard, thus completing my first-flight trifecta, having already flown on the 787 and Airbus A380 inaugurals (Airways, February 2012 & January 2008).

Significantly for Lufthansa, as the airline to introduce the 747 Intercontinental, the German flag carrier also launched the 737 in 1967, the first time a non-US customer had been the first to order a new type of US jetliner. Lufthansa was also the first to order the 747-200F, and when the airline began 747-100 service between Frankfurt and New York-JFK on April 26, 1970, the flight featured the first film to be shown on a 747, Chariots of the Gods.

Preludes to first flights have usually been epic exercises in their own right. But the 747-8 inaugural was remarkable for being unremarkable. Rather than special press flights or seat auctions, Lufthansa opted to put the airplane into regular service, substituting the 747-8 for
a 747-400. Lufthansa did, however, announce bookings through its US Twitter account on Friday, April 27, as well as launching an impressive iPad ‘app’ and micro-site dedicated to its new flagship.

I checked with LH reservations and discovered there was ample seating availability; this would remain thus for a few weeks. The only hitch was that a seat map had not been immediately uploaded in the reservation system, but that would follow. Seats were blocked for approximately 75 Boeing and Lufthansa executives, VIPs, and members of the press, but all other seats were open for general sale. So on May 30, with great anticipation I boarded a LH 747-400 at Miami bound for Frankfurt. As a bonus, this would enable me to compare the older 747 with the Dash 8, as well as the new business class product.

On May 31, the day before the first service, Lufthansa hosted a pre-inaugural party. The 747-8 took center stage at the elaborate curtain-raiser, held in a LH Technik hangar at
Frankfurt. Ironically, there was an A380 parked alongside. In my opinion it is eclipsed by the 747-8 in terms of beauty and profile. Although 11.7ft (3.57m) shorter than the 747,
viewed in close proximity to the latter the A380 appears even smaller than those dimensions suggest, although it is the larger of the pair where passenger capacity, wing span, and cabin width are concerned.


Live musical performances, dance, and dramatic lighting accompanied the unveiling of the 747-8. (Credits: Author)

Speaking to Airways at the event, Capt Elmar Boje said that he wasn’t nervous about the next day’s flight, even though the eyes of the airline world would be on him and his crew: “I feel right at home on the 747-8. It’s similar to the 400, but more powerful, direct, and dynamic from a pilot’s point of view. Much like a new car, it just feels tighter.” Asked about conversion training, he explained: “There are no serious differences compared to the 747-400, and if you
drive an Audi A4 and you know how the gearbox works, you don’t have to take a new driving test in order to drive an A6.”

The Dash 8 has a common type rating with the 400, and Lufthansa already has 40 pilots cross-trained to fly both types. Ground school takes three days, followed by two days of differences training, work in the simulator, then four flights under supervision of a training captain before pilots are qualified. The duration is a major selling point for Boeing. Lufthansa’s 747-8 simulator comes on line in October this year, and eventually all its 747 crews will fly both types for optimum crew scheduling.


Crew for LH416; Capts Carsten Asmus and Christian Krauss are in the center of the group, with Capt Boje to the right. (Credits: Author)

Maintenance technicians undertake a three-week theoretical differences course, plus one to two weeks of practical training.

At FRA, Lufthansa also showcased its new first class terminal, which it claims is unique for an airline. Similar to the rarefied atmosphere of an upscale fixed base operator catering to personal jets, it offers concierges, 40-year-old Scotch whisky at the bar, a dining room, cigar
lounge, and a fleet of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz cars to convey customers to the airplane.

Check-in for the inaugural was as for any other flight, and there was no commemorative signage until we reached the business class lounge at Gate 16 in Terminal 1. Following a brief ceremony, boarding began via two airbridges. Here, we were handed small plaques;
many passengers were unaware of the historic nature of the flight. Seating capacity on Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental comprises eight first, 92 business (60 and 32 on lower and upper decks, respectively), and 258 in economy. The first class cabin and two business
class cabins on the lower deck were occupied by revenue passengers and VIPs, but there were a few empty seats in the two main deck economy cabins. The aviation press
was assigned to the 32-seat extended upper deck, the province of first class on Lufthansa 747-400s. A total of 313 passengers was onboard.

LED (light emitting diode) illumination, also a feature of the 787, enhances overall cabin ambiance. However, the lighting program chosen by Lufthansa is not a fullspectrum,
disco-style performance as on the Dreamliner, but set to coincide with different times of day and night so that extreme contrasts between sunlight and darkness are avoided.

As this was a daytime flight, the lighting was very subtle. During boarding, the intensity of illumination is relatively bright, in a warm, slightly yellowish tone; but other levels are used for night-time boarding. For takeoff and landing, the lighting is again slightly modified. On
night flights, ambient lighting is dimmed to a dark-blue ‘cool’ hue at the minimum intensity to allow for moving around the cabin without passengers being disturbed. When a toilet door is opened while the cabin is dark, the lav lights brighten to full strength only after the door is shut from inside. Of course, lighting is adjusted for meal service, and instead of using abrupt on/off and light/dark switches, the cabin illumination has subtle transition modes.

Inaugural action began when D-ABYA—named Brandenburg after the new but delayed Berlin Airport—pushed back at 1007lt. Fraport officials obliged with a water cannon salute.

With the four GEnx-2B67 turbofans at 80% thrust and 156kt showing on the airspeed indicator, at 1024 the 747-8 climbed into partly cloudy skies after a ground roll of 5,400ft (1,650m). Tipping the scales at 377.6t (832,000lb), the airplane used less than half of the
13,123ft (4,000m)-long Runway 25C.

As we became airborne, unlike on many other inaugurals there was no spontaneous applause—only the hum of the turbofans and subtle wind noise against a backdrop of clicking camera shutters. This was welcome, enabling us to sample the quiet takeoff—although not as quiet as the A380. The outward-looking ‘Flyrobic’ cameras, mounted in the flightdeck and under the fuselage, provided excellent vantage points as the world’s
newest wide-body airliner gracefully climbed out.

Capt Boje informed us that our initial cruise altitude would be 32,000ft, stepping up to 36,000ft, with the flight path taking us over northern Germany, the UK, Ireland, and the North Atlantic up to a latitude of 56º N, then making landfall over Newfoundland before tracking
along the coast into Dulles.

Soon afterward the 17-member cabin crew (one more than on a 747-400), led by Chief Purser Birgit Harrison, began serving the first of two meals. I opted for the grilled shrimp with cilantro pecan gremolate, pan-seared chicken with Moroccan scented tomato and
couscous, followed by a Häagen-Dazs dulce de leche ice cream. Onboard hospitality included a stream of souvenirs, including luggage tags, amenity kits, and a 747-8 Intercontinental pin.

Although this was the first 747-8 flight with nearly a full load, the cabin crew remarked that it had been a seamless transition, having spent only half a day of training on the actual aircraft. One novel feature for them is the mini-elevator to transport food and drinks to the upper deck, because catering is not loaded directly onto that level.

As I roamed the cabins, everyone seemed impressed. First class passengers were most effusive in their praise, their cabin claimed by Boeing and Lufthansa as the world’s quietest, with extra insulation in the curtains, side panels, and floor.


First Class Service. (Credits: Author)

Another ‘cool’ feature in first class is the electrically-controlled window shades that raise and lower like power windows in a car. The Dreamliner’s enlarged electronically tinting windows are not part of the 747-8 package. Lufthansa’s first class décor, introduced on the A380, is understated but elegant. Unlike both Singapore Airlines and Emirates, Lufthansa features open cabin architecture, not the enclosed suite approach. An unexpected ‘wow factor’ is provided by the bathrooms, which have a separate toilet and sink area. Among the most elegant lavs in the sky, these toilets boast the famous ‘loo with a view’ window, similar to the
type on the 787.

The only shortcoming in comparison to the airline’s 747-400 is that LH’s new SkyNet Wi-Fi product is currently not offered on the Dash 8. It will be incorporated with the sixth 747-8 delivery in 2013, while 90% of Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet will have broadband connectivity by the end of 2012.


Upper business class cabin. (Credits: Author)

In business class, the PearsonLloyd-designed, B/E Aerospace-manufactured lie-flat seats are very comfortable, with plenty of ergonomic touches and ample storage space. Constructed from lightweight titanium, aluminum, and carbon-fiber, seat covers have virgin wool fabric, and armrests upholstered in leather. Another major improvement over previous types is the new textures and finishes, moving from blue/yellow to gray/yellow. At first glance, the seats appear narrow and rather public, but they really excel in sleep mode when extended to a fully-flat length of 6.5ft (1.89m). The previous business seats were narrower and featured the much-criticized angled bed, so there is significant improvement. A fixed ottoman built into the front console can be used as a footrest or part of the bed when it is flat.

The ‘flying V’ seating layout creates an airy, sociable feel, as the seats face inward at a slight angle, giving passengers more space in the head and shoulder areas. As most business class customers travel alone, it may be expected that this would detract from privacy, but this certainly isn’t so in practice. The IFE screen size has increased from 10.4in (26cm) to 15in (38cm); however, the previous business seats did have a massage function that I missed on the 747-8.


Economy class. This was the first flight of a 747-8 Intercontinental with anything close to a full passenger load, underscoring Boeing and Lufthansa’s confidence in the new variant. (Credits: Author)

In economy, the Recaro ten-abreast seats with their firm seating were relatively comfortable, although pitch is unchanged from the Dash 400. Thinner than before to save weight, the latest seats have the magazine pocket relocated almost to the top of the seatback, giving the
impression of more pitch. Also contributing to these chairs’ greater comfort, the seat pan moves forward in the recline mode. And while Lufthansa has added power outlets, this is still economy class.

The IFE package is an evolution of the Panasonic X2 system introduced on the A380, but it did seem more responsive. The most noticeable feature besides the two aforementioned cameras is the ‘Niceview’, or moving map display. Presenting a 3D representation of the aircraft, it is fully interactive, allowing zooming down to the location below. On offer are hundreds of video options, 30 radio channels, 200 CDs, games, audio books, and even Berlitz
language lessons.

As we approached the jet stream over Newfoundland, light turbulence was encountered. This provided an opportunity to watch the Intercontinental’s 787-type raked wings flex while the gust suppression technology did its work. Even with the occasional rough air, the airplane remained very stable. Informally, a couple of crewmembers mused that the 747-8 wing is stiffer than that of the 400 and therefore the new airplane doesn’t ride quite as smoothly as its predecessor.

At this point, midway through the flight while cruising at Mach 0.843 at FL360 with a 20kt headwind, Capt Boje reported a total fuel burn of 9.6t/hr, with a groundspeed of 479kt.

During an in-flight press briefing, Elizabeth Lund, manager of the 747 program, revealed that a performance improvement package with updated GEnx-2B engines, a refined flight management computer, and activated tail fuel tanks will be tested in 2013 and be introduced in 2014 by Lufthansa’s 11th 747-8. The PIP, which will also include structural revisions to reduce weight, will bring the 747-8 “very close” to original customer guarantees.

Lufthansa Group CEO Dr Christoph Franz spoke in glowing terms of the 747-8 and how it is a key element in the airline’s quest for greater fuel efficiency. He revealed that Delhi and Bangalore would be the 747-8’s next destinations as four more airplanes come online this year, with Chicago and Los Angeles to follow. The 747-8 will operate five to six days per week to Washington for the foreseeable future, because of the relatively small fleet size, which will increase to 20 by 2015.

Franz predicted that others are likely to order the 747-8 when they see how well it fills the gap between the A380 and 777-300ER/A340-600, especially in premium markets. “The reason airlines haven’t focused on the 747-8 is because the 787 and A380 attracted so much attention, but this will change as they see the data. Our  goal is for Lufthansa to be a ‘three-liter fleet’ (three liters of fuel burned for 100 passenger-kilometers). The 747-8
serves that purpose.”

Nico Buchholz, Lufthansa executive VP, considered by some as the ‘father of the 747-8’, having first sketched the specs on a napkin, compared the 747 to the Porsche 911 in terms of iconic status. According to Buchholz, the Intercontinental, like that long-lived, rear-engine sports car from Stuttgart, has always had a classic look, but both are completely different than their predecessors of 40 years ago.

Echoing Boeing’s assertion that the Dash 8 is effectively a new airplane, Buchholz admitted that though the new 747’s gestation was a trying experience at times, he felt very pleased that the aircraft performs as well as and meets the expectations he had set six years ago
when Lufthansa became launch customer. He confirmed that though the early aircraft are slightly overweight, fuel consumption is indeed reduced from the Dash 400 by double digits, and the noise footprint is 30% lower, as advertised. However, there is room for improvement:
“We need the flightdeck and cabin to be quieter. The A380 is a bit quieter, but the two aircraft are basically a wash. Still, we need the 747-8 to be lighter. We’re pleased, we’re not done, but we’ll get there.”

LH748-9Over the Hudson Valley, New York, at 1132EST we began a gradual descent through layers of cloud. That was when Lufthansa revealed another surprise, with passengers in all classes served custom-made cake decorated with a model of the 747 on a runway.

At 1222EST, LH416 touched down on Runway 19C at Dulles at a weight of around 269t (592,000lb), which meant it had burned some 80t (176,000lb) of fuel during the 7hr 58min flight. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority greeted the newest 747 with its second water cannon salute for this trip. At 1232, the airplane blocked on, writing yet another page in the annals of commercial aviation history.


Brandenburg taxies in at IAD through a water cannon salute.

Upon arrival, Capt Asmus praised the 747-8: “We know and love this ’plane already. The Dash 8 has made an already great ’plane, the Dash 400, significantly better.” That assessment of ‘The New Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century’ perfectly summed up my feelings and those of many of my fellow-passengers. Long live the Queen!


Chris Sloan is founder of and a veteran reporter and aviation expert with a keen historical bent and an extensive collection of aviation memorabilia and photos. In early February 2003, he created Contact him at

Editor‘s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Turkish Airlines Begins Service to Atlanta

By: Benjamin Bearup / Published: May 16, 2016

Turkish Airlines began service to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Monday by flying in the carrier’s signature Boeing 777-300ER featuring a special Batman v. Superman livery.

RELATED: Turkish Airlines’ “Batman v. Superman” Plane Takes Flight


At the arrival, the first Turkish Airlines 777 was welcomed by the customary water cannon salute. (Credits: Author)

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Atlanta’s Concourse F, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joined Turkish Airlines CMO Ahmet Olmustur, and Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kılıç in welcoming the airport’s eighth foreign carrier.

At the ceremony, Kasim Reed welcomed Turkish by stating “We are pleased to welcome Turkish Airlines as the newest carrier to Atlanta, solidifying the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport not only as the world’s busiest airport, but also the gateway to the world.” Kasim added that “The new route will open business and tourism opportunities to a vast array of global destinations and further advance Atlanta’s tourism industry.”


The ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Atlanta Major Kasim Reed. (Credits: Author)

Olmustur praised the new route stating “This significant launch reinforces Turkish Airlines as a global leader in aviation with an internationally known brand helping passengers widen their world.” Olmuster also highlighted the significance of Atlanta as the airlinewill now connect travelers through “the world’s most traveled airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.”

Announced on June 15th, 2015, Atlanta is the 9th city in the United States—and the newest in North America after Miami, which received service last October—for the growing carrier.

Timing for the Atlanta flight is consistent with most Turkish flights to the United States, and is suitable for connecting to much of Europe and Asia through its Istanbul hub. The flight departs Istanbul at 14:05 and arrives in Atlanta at 19:05. Leaving Atlanta, the flight departs at 22:45 and arrives in Istanbul at 16:40, all local times.

The estimated flight time is between 11 and 12 hours each way. Turkish will fly the Boeing 777-300ER on the Istanbul – Atlanta route. The largest aircraft in its fleet, the 777-300ER seats 349 seats in a two-class configuration (49 in Business and 300 in Economy). Turkish currently has 29 777-300ER aircraft in its fleet.  The airline has also said the Atlanta route will decrease from daily to 5X weekly, starting October 30th, for the winter season at least.

Turkish will likely be the second passenger airline to take advantage of the city’s Air Service Incentive Program (ASIP). Launched in 2014, the five-year program is designed to entice foreign carriers into starting service to Atlanta by offering them subsidies including a 12-month landing fee waiver, and contribution of marketing funds. So far, the airline has yet to sign a contract with the city for the Air Service Incentive Program but negotiations are currently ongoing.

In December 2014, Atlanta Airport Assistant General Manager for Commercial Development Vivica Brown told Airways “We’re focusing on this because we know that growth in international markets is exponentially higher than domestic market.” Brown added “So we thought it would be a great idea one, to incentivize airlines to start international destinations at Hartsfield, and two, to diversify our current destinations to fast-growing economies like Asia, India and the Middle East.”

RELATED: Atlanta Airport Targets International Service With New Program

Passengers were greeted to snacks and drinks courtesy of Turkish. (Credits: Author)

Passengers were greeted to snacks and drinks courtesy of Turkish. (Credits: Author)

In October of 2014, Virgin Atlantic became the first carrier to utilize the Air Service Incentive Program by launching service to London-Heathrow. At a ceremony welcoming Virgin Atlantic to the market, Atlanta Airport General Manager Miguel Southwell spoke to Airways about the program. “If your preference is to fly a U.S. airline, we have a U.S. airline. If your preference is to fly a British carrier with an outstanding reputation, then you have that choice,” he said.

Turkish stands to pose a challenge to Delta Air Lines and partners Air France/KLM on transatlantic routes out of Atlanta, along with Qatar Airways, which is set to begin its Doha service on June 1st, and also to be served with a Boeing 777-300E. Both carriers will provide a combined 608 daily seats to the Atlanta market.

Delta has been critical of Turkish Airlines and the Middle East carriers and their expansion in the U.S. market. Last February, Delta opted to suspend its daily Dubai flight that would have competed directly with Turkish and Qatar.

RELATED: Gulf Carriers Adjust Capacity on North American Routes: Are “Subsidy” Allegations Miscalculated?

RELATED: Qatar Airways to Fly its Airbus A380 in Inaugural Service to Atlanta

IMG_2799Benjamin Bearup has had a love for aviation since he was born. A local from Atlanta, Georgia, Ben is accustomed to life around the World’s Busiest Airport. In his spare time, Benjamin enjoys plane spotting, traveling, tweeting, and writing. You can follow him on Twitter @TheAviationBeat, or email at

Editor’s note: We want you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Why? Every Saturday morning, subscribers receive a summary of our best stories of the week, along with exclusive content. from our massive archives. Subscribe today by clicking here!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Experiencing The First Nonstop Flight From San Francisco to Xi’an

By: Rohan Anand / Published: May 16, 2016

United Airlines is no stranger to China, and with demand for Chinese tourism travel to the U.S. at soaring levels, the carrier is creating an even bigger footprint abroad by expanding to secondary Chinese markets. On May 8, 2016, United celebrated history by operating the first transpacific route to Xi’an, located in the Shaanxi province in Northwest China, from the airline’s San Francisco gateway hub.

There was a palpable energy flowing through the international pier at San Francisco airport (SFO). On the departures level at Gate G-94, the waiting area teemed with soothing classical Chinese music, the scent of delicious beef skewers and colorful art displays adorning the walls and ceilings. A hop down a flight of stairs towards the jet way gave further clues into what was abuzz.

On this particular day, United was gearing up to launch the inaugural service from its trans Pacific gateway hub to Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in China, on-board a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Even though the airline is well-known abroad, especially in China, this celebration was unique. United Flight # 853 would become the first scheduled trans Pacific flight ever to land in Xi’an Xianyang International airport.

Following an elegantly-decorated sign, emboldened in vivid red colors with gray silhouettes of the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China from 210 to 209 B.C.E., I took the escalators down to the departures level, enamored by the incredible effort put forth in showcasing the cultural heritage of Xi’an. SFO airport is already renowned for its cutting-edge facilities in the International Terminal, and the plethora of stunning artwork that beautifies the building from floor to ceiling. Today, it resembled a museum more than an airport, with relics of Chinese heritage in the form of colorful posters, tapestries, low-hanging lanterns and two men dressed as the Terracotta Warriors, impeccably adhering to character.

Welcome sign at gate G-94 with escalators leading down to departures level for flight 853 on May 8, 2016. (Credits: Author)

Welcome sign at gate G-94 with escalators leading down to departures level for flight 853 on May 8, 2016. (Credits: Author)

Artwork and life-size cutouts of the Terracotta warriors of Xi'an. (Credits: Author)

Artwork and life-size cutouts of the Terracotta warriors of Xi’an. (Credits: Author)

Crew of UA 853 takes a photo with the terracotta warriors. (Credits: Author)

Crew of UA 853 takes a photo with the terracotta warriors. (Credits: Author)


beautiful lanterns suspended from the ceiling. Bravo, Ed Pivik!

Xi’an will be United’s second link to interior mainland China, following the successful launch of the Chicago-based carrier’s service to Chengdu in 2014. The city of Xi’an is home to a population of nearly 14 million residents, inclusive of the entire metropolitan area, and has served as a leading anchor for the economic rival of interior China since the 1990s. Although United intends to serve Xi’an on a seasonal basis initially, with service running thrice weekly through October 27, 2016, the carrier aims to tap into the growing wealth of the Chinese middle class, as well as foreign students traveling to the U.S., to play a role in shaping the success of the flight. United will also launch service to another secondary Chinese city, Hangzhou, approximately 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, on July 13, 2016.

Close to the jet bridge, I was greeted by Ed Pivik, Sales and Events Manager for United, and also the mastermind who brings special events like this to life. Mr. Pivik was hardly breaking a sweat in midst of the hustle and bustle of the gate area, but then again, with several inaugural flights lined up at SFO this year, he must be a pro at this stuff already. He mentioned to me that Chengdu was doing “extremely well” for United, and while Xi’an is more a leisure-oriented market for United than some of its other Asian routes, there is plenty of untapped demand to potentially fill-up the front of the cabin with Chinese citizens having a massive appetite for travel abroad.

Still two hours out from scheduled push-back time, the area was starting to fill up as airline and airport personnel trickled in, smiling and laughing as they snapped photographs of the two men dressed as the Terracotta warriors. Xi’an is famous for its collection of statue sculptures depicting the soldiers and horsemen of Qin Emperor. The statues were discovered in 1974 by Chinese farmers roughly 1 mile east of Qin Emperors tomb. Occasionally, a makeup artist would scurry over and apply a touch-up of face paint and mascara to the two men. One maintained a rigid facial expression, poised and graceful, while the other would point to smartphones and cameras with a curious facial expression, eliciting chuckles from small children and adults alike.

Near the podium, Mr. Pivik greeted and welcomed a crew of smart-looking executives, representing a multitude of stakeholders who worked tirelessly to coordinate the planning and execution of this new route. They were joined by the United Airlines flight and cabin crew members who were scheduled to work the inaugural trip that afternoon. Hugs were exchanged, smiles beamed, cameras flashed and laughter roared.


The live “terracotta warriors” were a huge hit!


Passengers helped themselves to delicious Chinese treats at the gate area while waiting for the inaugural flight and listening to the opening remarks


My best attempt at creating modern Chinese AvGeek artwork

In February 2016, United celebrated 30 years of serving the Chinese market, having purchased Pan Am’s Tokyo hub, and its corresponding routes to Beijing and Shanghai from Tokyo, back in the mid 1980’s. Initially, travelers between the U.S. and China had to make a stop over in Japan before continuing onto either country in both directions, but an Air Services Agreement signed in 1999 permitted a restricted number of U.S. and Chinese carriers to operate nonstop service between the two countries. United launched nonstop service from San Francisco to Shanghai in April 2000, which remains, to date, the oldest-operated nonstop flight from the U.S. to China on an American carrier.

In fact, the early success of United’s San Francisco – Shanghai flight became a paradigm for continued growth in China, as well as the Asia – Pacific region as a whole. Over the years, United built up additional routes from its San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles and Washington Dulles hubs to Shanghai and Beijing, and once it consummated its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, it gained nonstop access between New York and Beijing and Shanghai via Continental’s Newark hub.

Post-merger with Continental, United was quick to take advantage of the shift in tourism trends within the Republic of China, as it evolved from a closed to an open environment for inbound and outbound travelers. Combined with the enhanced economics of next-generation aircraft, namely Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, United began to look beyond congested airports in Beijing and Shanghai and onward to secondary markets with upwards of 10 million inhabitants. Faster visa processing times and the relative prosperity of China’s middle class made it clear that there was a high concentration of pent-up demand in other Chinese cities, and the 787 Dreamliner was perfectly suited to launch, “long, thin routes” to markets like Xi’an, Chengdu and Hangzhou that can be viably served 3-4 times per week from the U.S.

United hasn’t been alone in growing its presence between the U.S. and China: both American and Chinese carriers alike have pounced on liberalized route authorities to add seats, frequencies and new routes in the past five years. In 2012, there were 21 daily trans Pacific flights between U.S. and Chinese airports. By the end of 2016, that number will have doubled to 42 daily round trips. The operating efficiency of the 787, moreover, has made many routes possible, such as San Jose to Beijing, Boston to Shanghai and Seattle to Shenzhen

United leapfrogs its primary domestic competitors, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, in terms of its market share between the U.S. and China. The carrier offers 73 weekly flights from six U.S. gateways – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles and Guam – to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xi’an and soon Hangzhou, come July 2016. It also boasts an advantageous partnership with Air China, the largest Chinese carrier serving the U.S. on a seat and frequency basis, as both are members of Star Alliance. Comparatively, Delta offers 41 weekly flights from Tokyo Narita, Detroit, Seattle and Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, while American offers 35 weekly flights from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai.

Today’s inaugural flight included a special press conference with several keynote speakers, representing United Airlines, the City of San Francisco, San Francisco International Airport and San Francisco’s General Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. As passengers excitedly snapped photos with the Terracotta Warriors, munched on sumptuous noodles, sipped on iced Pomegranate and Green Tea and enjoyed fortune cookies with a tagline, “welcome Xi’an to United’s network,” few seats in the gate area were occupied as everyone wanted to get a piece of the action.

Around 12:15 pm local time, Mr. Pivik, running the entire operation like clockwork, announced that the inaugural program was scheduled to begin, and passengers congregated around a small stage and podium to listen to the keynote speakers before the official ribbon cutting.  Today’s “master of ceremonies,” was Mr. Mike Hanna, Vice President of United’s San Francisco hub.

An affable, energetic man with a booming voice that captivated the audience, Mr. Hanna delivered a warm welcome to all guests and thanked them for their patronage to join United on its inaugural flight to Xi’an. He remarked that this was United’s second inaugural service to a new foreign market from SFO this year, following an earlier launch of nonstop service to Tel Aviv, Israel on March 30. He also mentioned that this was also the second inaugural service that United was celebrating this week, as the airline launched nonstop flights to Nashville on May 3.

“For those of you who want to enjoy some country music,” he added, which was received with a several chuckles from a predominantly Chinese group of passengers.

Mr. Hanna remarked that while this is the second iteration in a string of new services from SFO on United to various global points, with Singapore starting June 1, 2016, Auckland on July 1, 2016 and Hangzhou, China on July 13, 2016, he underscored that the Xi’an service remains a top priority for United given the massive importance of Chinese tourism in the United States and vice versa. Cities like Xi’an, previously without direct links to the North American continent, will now be able to draw larger tourism crowds given the enhanced connectivity to San Francisco and beyond via United’s gateway hub at SFO.

Mr. Hanna then introduced Marcel Fuchs, Vice President of Atlantic and Pacific Sales at United, another dynamic personality who stirred up the crowd with his energy. Mr. Fuchs introduced the four Captains who would be flying the inaugural flight to Xi’an, including the Chief Pilot of United’s San Francisco pilot base. He drew parallels to the launch of United’s nonstop flight to Chengdu in 2014, and the significance of focusing on growth in China beyond Shanghai and Beijing. Consistent with that trend, United is creating more channels for customers by adding Xi’an and Hangzhou to its route network, and continuing the tradition of serving, “the beautiful country and people of China.”

But beyond tourism, Mr. Fuchs mentioned that there are other reasons to connect the U.S. to Xi’an: it is critical for developing business, trade, leisure and student exchange ties between the U.S. and China. United States President Barack Obama and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, have declared 2016 as, “the year of China – U.S. tourism,” with more than 3 million Chinese tourists expected to arrive on U.S. shores by year end.

Finally, Mr. Fuchs noted that this flight would be operated in conjunction with Air China, a valued Star Alliance customer, and how the route connected Silicon Valley with Xi’an’s geographical location at the Eastern end of the Silk Road.

Next to join the team on the stage was Luo Linquan, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, who greeted the crowd by wishing everyone a, “Happy Mother’s Day,” speaking in Mandarin. His smile was beaming from ear to ear. For Consul General Luo, this was an extremely happy day for the future of U.S. relations with China, and having the privilege to join in the celebrations of the inaugural flight was a big pleasure for him.

Consul General Luo mentioned that in 2015, more than 4.75 million tourists traveled between the U.S. and China, including 2.1 million U.S. tourists visiting China, and 2.7 million Chinese tourists visiting the U.S. Breaking down this figure, this equates to roughly 30,000 people flying each day between the two countries. Reiterating Mr. Fuch’s remarks about 2016 being, “the year of tourism” for China, he expects that number to exceed 5 million visitors, in total, by year end, facilitated, of course, by United’s growth in mainland China. He even alluded to how his sisters have started visiting the U.S. in recent years for extended stays, enjoying the, “beauty of San Francisco,” and feeling at home with nearly 1 million people of Chinese descent living in the Bay Area.

From a commercial perspective, the number of flights between the San Francisco and China is growing at an astonishing speed. In 2013, the number stood at 5 daily departures to Beijing and Shanghai, whereas in 2016, that number will have more than doubled with new links to Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan, Xi’an and Hangzhou added to SFO’s route map. Three of these (Chengdu, Xi’an and Hangzhou) will be flown on United, while China Southern operates the services to Wuhan and Guangzhou.

After Consul General Luo spoke, it was time for Mark Chandler, Director of San Francisco Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce, to take the stage.

“This is a great day – not just because it’s Mother’s Day, but because we’re flying to Xi’an for the first time,” Mr. Chandler remarked. “[United], you really are helping the city by creating great economic channels, and we’re seeing that development every day. I’ve been to Xi’an, and not only are the Terracotta warriors one of the largest bucket list items, but there are also hundreds of incredibly historic artifacts and places to go, and the food is incredible, particularly Xi’an noodles.”

 The final speaker for the media event prior to the ribbon cutting was Ivar Satero, SFO Chief Operating Officer and soon-to-be new Airport Director.

“The success of this flight is so important to the partnership of SFO and United, all over the world,” he mentioned. “United also commits and promises incredible economic benefits to the Bay Area. At SFO, we pride ourselves on serving the world, and being the U.S. airport with more flights to mainland China than any other U.S. airport, with 73 flights to China per week (over 10 per day), this flight will contribute to the 35% year-over-year growth to China.”

He also touted that SFO airport was also the first U.S. airport to create a dedicated Chinese website, with launched in 2014. In addition, he mentioned the exciting 10-year capital development program in the pipeline to make significant improvements to SFO airport, including United’s Terminal 3 (used to house domestic operations), its international terminal and a new luxury Grand Hyatt hotel to be built on-site with 350 rooms.

“It’s a pleasure to be a part of this celebration,” he added.

Following the speeches, the speakers, as well as Mr. Pivik and several of the United crew members, lined up to take a photo before the official ribbon cutting. Mr. Hanna made the closing remarks thanking the crew, the ground operations personnel, the airport staff, gate agents, terracotta warriors, media and fellow speakers.


Luo Linquan, Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in San Francisco, speaks at the podium adjacent to Mike Hanna, Vice President of United’s San Francisco hub


Ribbon-cutting ceremony with United crew on the inaugural as well as speakers for the media event

Then, the official boarding process began.

Following visa checks prior to entering the jetway, guests on the inaugural received a gift compliments of United, including a business card holder along with a thank-you note.

On-board, I settled into my seat and was warmly greeted by the lovely crew serving the BusinessFirst cabin that afternoon, including Gavin, in-flight service manager, and Noreen, who would be my serving my row throughout most of the flight.

We had a long taxi out to the runway, and while we encountered a bit of a hold-up prior to take off given the heavy inbound traffic into SFO at that hour, the views of the parallel landings onto SFO’s runways were stunning.


Seat 3K in BusinessFirst on United’s 787 Dreamliner


from left to right: gift handed to all enplaning passengers, amenity kit and menu for UA 853

Once airborne, passengers relaxed into their seats for the 12+ hour flight. Our routing would take us directly west of the California coast for a few hundred miles, before heading up Northwest to meet up with the Alaskan coastline, over Siberia, Mongolia and then straight into Xi’an.


Crossing the Pacific Ocean


Crossing north to the Alaskan coastline

Lunch service commenced approximately one hour into the flight. The menu for today’s flight included 5 courses for the main meal, a mid-flight snack (both a hot option as well as self-serve bar) and a hot breakfast prior to arrival.

Menu: Inaugural service from SFO to XIY

To Begin

  • Prosciutto melon with garnishes
  • Fresh seasonal greens with tomatoes, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese and croutons with a choice of ranch or italian dressing


  • Tenderloin of beef: asiago broth, brown butter gnocchi and green asparagus, OR
  • Kung pao chicken: chile sauce, bell pepper, Chinese broccoli with mushrooms and steamed rice OR
  • Newburg-style seafood: fillet of turbot and shrimp with creamy lobster sauce, green lentils and mixed vegetables, OR
  • Stir-fry noodles: beef in oyster sauce, dim sum and bell pepper.

To Finish

  • International Cheese Selection, including grapes and crackers served with Port
  • Gelato with your choice of toppings

Mid-Flight Snack

  • Chinese-style soup, with noodles, won ton, shrimp, scallops, vegetables and mushrooms in a savory broth

Prior to arrival

  • Pepper Jack cheese omelet with black beans, corn, roasted pepper with red skin and sweet potatoes, chicken sausage and corn and black bean medley
  • Congee: traditional Chinese-style rice porridge with chicken, corn and mushrooms
  • Cereal and Banana with milk




Landing in Xi’an was smooth, with stunning views of the city and surrounding farmlands. Taxi to the gate was short, and after we disembarked, special guests, media, the crew and Mr. Fuchs (who came on the inaugural) headed down to the tarmac to take photos by the Dreamliner aircraft. The plane looked radiant in the late afternoon Chinese sun, and just as it had been in the departures area at SFO roughly 14 hours before, the ground staff at Xianyang airport greeting us was beaming with pride upon receiving the inaugural flight.


Waking up somewhere over Siberia…


descent into Xi’an


UA Flight Crew – 853 in Xi’an



United had sent out a team of personnel to Xi’an in advance to accommodate passengers and help train the staff for the inaugural services. Some came from world headquarters, while others were station agents based out of some of United’s other Asian cities, such as Shanghai and Tokyo. The incredibly hospitable staff at Xi’an handed out gifts and posed for selfies as the refreshing breeze blew in our faces.

The highlight of the trip was rolling out the big red and blue banners that proudly said, “Celebration of United Airlines’ Xi’an to San Francisco Inaugural Flight,” as well as, “HNA Aviation Technic Welcome United Airlines First Flight to Xi’an, China.”

It was a journey of a lifetime. You felt part of a team, on both sides of the ocean, from two completely separate worlds. Knowing that the final delivery on United’s inaugural flight to Xi’an was met with that level of energy and positivism, I have no doubt that United’s mission to expand its strategic footprint in China will be a resounding success.

Special thanks to Mary Clark, United Airlines Media Relations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article, as well as any of Rohan’s published articles on Airways, are strictly his and do not reflect opinions of his employer in any capacity.

0a2a71aRohan believes there is fate behind his #AvGeek fervor: on the day he was born, his grandmother had to fly on the supersonic Concorde from London to New York in order to arrive in time for his birth. The rest is all history. He has been blogging since 2010, and his content covers a broad spectrum of topics related to the global airline and air transport industry, including travel tools and technology, evaluations of airline mergers, acquisitions and restructurings, network and commercial strategies, loyalty programs and in-flight product reviews.

Editor’s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

Contact the Editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Air Canada Expands To Sun Destinations

By: Nicolas Bernier / Published: April 20, 2016

Air Canada announced today that it would start four new winter seasonal routes to sun destinations. From November, the Montreal-based carrier will launch flights from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. A month later, San José, Costa Rica, Palm Springs and Port of Spain will follow suit.

Tickets are available for purchase as of today. The new routes are listed below from the airline’s press release:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.21.15All the flights will be operated by the air carrier’s wholly owned subsidiary leisure airline, Air Canada Rouge. Flights from Montreal to Puerto Vallarta and to San José, as well as from Toronto to Port of Spain will be operated by 282-seat Boeing 767-300ERs, while the service to Palm Springs will be operated by 136-seat Airbus A319s. These two types of aircraft offer Business Class and Economy Class products.

“Air Canada is solidifying its position in the Canadian leisure market by offering more flights to more sun destinations during the 2016-2017 winter season. Flights are timed to optimize connectivity for travelers from all across Quebec and Eastern Canada looking to escape the Canadian winter,” said Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada.

According to the airline, Rouge flies to near 70 leisure destinations to Canada, Mexico, the United States, and the Caribbean, and long-haul to Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

1475805_10202224574510743_2017186540_nNicolas Bernier is an contributor that has been an aviation passionate since he was young. Nicolas likes travelling, plane spotting, and writing. He lives in Montreal, Canada and studies in Aviation Business Administration at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @nickbernier7, or email him at

Editor’s noteKeep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Southwest Launches First International Service from Los Angeles

By: Alex McIntyre / Published: April 13, 2016

On Tuesday, April 12, Southwest officially launched its first international service from Los Angeles (LAX) when flight WN6920 to Liberia, Costa Rica departed on its inaugural journey at 14:36, four minutes ahead of schedule.

The daily flight will use 143-seat Boeing 737-700s. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

The daily flight will use 143-seat Boeing 737-700s. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

The new route clocks in as the longest in Southwest’s route network. The travel time southbound is approximately five hours and thirty minutes, and a slightly longer six hours northbound on the return leg.

At an early afternoon news conference, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis talked about the value that the company’s new service will offer to the region: “Connecting Los Angeles to Costa Rica’s growing resort and ecotourism region brings to the market a value only Southwest can offer” he said.

Paul Cullen, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Paul Cullen, Southwest’s VP of Corporate Financial Planning and Analysis. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Cullen’s statement reflects that of Andrew Watterson, Senior Vice President of Network & Revenue Management, who likewise championed the value Southwest adds to the market with the distinctive low-cost service offered by the carrier, when the route was announced last December.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti also warmly welcomed the new route, which he sees as an opportunity to strengthen “the exchange of cultures and commerce that makes [Los Angeles] such a diverse, and dynamic, global city.” Garcetti previously estimated that the new route specifically injects approximately $600 million to Los Angeles local economy and supports “thousands of jobs for Angelenos.”

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Mayor. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Mayor. (Credits: Southwest Airlines)

In addition to serving the local L.A. market, Southwest’s Liberia route facilitates easy connections to many other cities within its network. A press release issued by Southwest mentions that this new Liberia service offers connection opportunities to Oakland, Phoenix and Las Vegas, all western focus cities for the airline.

Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines also offer non-stop Liberia – Los Angeles service. Southwest’s entrance into the market will provide fliers with a low-cost connection to Southern California and other nearby destinations.

Los Angeles represents the third city from which Southwest flies to Liberia, with Houston-Hobby and Baltimore/Washington already offering service. Southwest launched the flight from Houston in November 2014, shortly after it unveiled its new international terminal at the airport.

Southwest is also currently progressing on Terminal 1 renovations at LAX. The construction is designed to freshen an aging facility, providing a better experience for customers as well as improve operations at the airport. The project recently wrapped up Phase 1, with full completion expected in 2018.

RELATED: Southwest Invests in Los Angeles, Modernizes Terminal

Los Angeles signifies just the latest step in Southwest’s broader international expansion. Traditionally a domestic-focused airline, international flying has come into greater focus for Southwest over the past several years. New service abroad currently accounts for most of the airline’s overall growth, a trend which is expected to continue for the next several years. At an industry conference in 2015, CFO Tammy Romo stated that she sees “opportunities to grow” for the airline in international markets.

The Los Angeles area will also pick up more Southwest flights in June, with the airline recently announcing plans to serve Long Beach Airport (LGB). Southwest will kick off four daily flights to Oakland (OAK), connecting customers with another destination within the state of California. The new international service, the LAX renovations, and the LGB announcement all represent big investments in the broader region for Southwest.

RELATED: Southwest to Fly Non-stop Between Long Beach and Oakland

More international service may be on the horizon from LAX as well. “Our list of opportunities is long and Liberia, Costa Rica is just the beginning of the international destinations we plan to offer from LAX,” said Watterson in December. Cullen made similar comments at the Tuesday news conference, saying that the Liberia flight “marks the beginning of our international story here at LAX, as we continue to explore more destinations for our L.A. Basin Customers.”

Southwest Airlines is spreading its wings internationally, and Liberia, Costa Rica is just the latest city to receive more LUV. With its new service from Los Angeles to Liberia, Southwest is going from Coast to Costa.

Photo May 25, 0 53 04Alex McIntyre joined to more heavily pursue his relentless passion for the airline industry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, growing up in the shadows of two major airlines’ headquarters and in a vibrant aviation-minded city. Alex studies accounting at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, Georgia.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

India’s IndiGo Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

By: Roberto Leiro / Published: March 11, 2016

IndiGo became today the world’s second Airbus A320neo operator after German carrier Lufthansa. The delivery comes after a delay which according to Airbus was due to “industrial reasons.”

RELATED: Airbus to Delay IndiGo’s A320neo Delivery

RELATED: Lufthansa Takes Ceremonial Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

RELATED: Airbus A320neo: Delivered!

The Indian low-cost carrier, established in 2006, is an all-Airbus operator with 102 Airbus A320ceo in service, and it happens to be the A320neo’s biggest customer with 430 aircraft from two orders placed in 2011 (180 A320neo) and 2015 (250 A320neo).CdRlGnTW8AEMKc0.jpg large

RELATED: IndiGo Signs off Airbus Record Order

RELATED: Airbus Signs MoU with IndiGo for 250 A320neos

According to Aditya Ghosh, President of IndiGo, the A320neo “will be part of a new phase of our growth and will enable us to offer more regional and international destinations at the best price.”

India ranks among the fastest growing air travel markets in the world. IATA estimates that the market will average an annual growth of 6.4% during the next two decades, and by 2034 it is expected to hit the 256 million passenger/year mark. Despite the current infrastructure constraints, the size and potential of the market has drawn a myriad of new players, including IndiGo.

“It fills us with pride that IndiGo, India’s largest airline and the biggest customer for our A320neo, has taken delivery of its first aircraft. On top of best in class operational efficiencies and environmental benefits, the A320neo will offer IndiGo’s passengers unmatched comfort,” said Dr. Kiran Rao, Airbus EVP Strategy and Marketing.

To date, Airbus has received over 4,500 orders from nearly 80 operators since the launch of the program in 2010. According to the company, the A320neo family aircraft currently holds some 60 percent share of the single aisle market in the range of 140 – 240 seats. Plans are to ramp up the production to 60 aircraft a month before the end of a decade, in a move supported by record numbers in firm orders amid a strong global demand for the type.

RELATED: Airbus to Ramp Up A320 production to 60 a Month Before 2020

RELATED: Airbus prepares “SHort AiRfield Package” modification for A320neo

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

Editor’s note: Have you subscribed to our weekly newsletter yet? Click here to subscribe today for a summary of our best stories, along with exclusive subscribers-only content.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

JetBlue says ¡Hola, Ecuador!

By: Roberto Leiro / Published: February 25, 2016

As previously announced, JetBlue is starting today its service from Fort Lauderdale to Quito, Ecuador. The South American country becomes the 22nd country served by the airline. The service comes to compete with Ecuadorean carrier Tame, which already offers flights between both cities.

RELATED: JetBlue to Take Off to Quito, Ecuador

RELATED: JetBlue Announces Mexico City and Quito Service

“Quito is one of the fastest growing destinations in Latin America and a world-class tourism destination. We are thrilled to bring our award-winning service and low fares to this underserved market,” said Dave Clark, vice president network planning at JetBlue.

B6FLLFlights from Ft. Lauderdale will depart at 19:00 local, with arrival to Quito at 22:30. Departures from Quito will be at midnight and an early arrival to Ft. Lauderdale at 05:17, all local times. Although the flight will primarily serve an ever growing O&D traffic between South America and Florida, the schedule is flexible enough to allow connection to JetBlue’s network. JetBlue will operate the route using its 150-seat Airbus A320s.

“JetBlue will soon offer more than 100 daily flights to destinations across our network. Whether travelers are coming from South Florida, the northeast or the west coast, it’s never been easier to visit Ecuador’s historic capital city” Clark said.

From Fort Lauderdale, JetBlue also offers direct services to Bogotá, Cartagena and Medellin in Colombia, and to Lima in Peru. Last year, JetBlue added Mexico City as well. Quito is the fifth Latin American destination of the New-York based low-cost carrier.

“The arrival of JetBlue will have a positive impact on the development of tourism from and to the United States and it will offer Ecuadorian passengers greater connectivity from Fort Lauderdale” said said Andrew O’Brian, president and CEO of Corporación Quiport, the concessionaire of Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport. Since its inauguration in 2013, the new Quito International Airport serves more than five million passengers per year.

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

Editor’s note: Have you subscribed to our weekly newsletter yet? Click here to subscribe today for a summary of our best stories, along with exclusive subscribers-only content.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Lufthansa Takes Ceremonial Delivery of its First Airbus A320neo

By: Jan Richter in Hamburg / Published: February 12, 2016

Lufthansa, together with Airbus and Pratt & Whitney, celebrated Friday the delayed official ceremonial delivery of the world’s first A320neo. Carsten Spohr, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Lufthansa Group, Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Brégier and the President of Pratt & Whitney Robert Leduc invited 700 guests and media staff to the official delivery at Hamburg-Finkenwerder.


From left to right: Fabrice Brégier (Airbus), Carsten Spohr (Lufthansa) and Robert Leduc (PW) in the handover ceremony.

Following the handover, the first two aircraft were presented to the attendees. The first A320neo, registered D-AINA (MSN 6801) has already flown scheduled service since January. The second neo is expected to join the fleet soon. According to Spohr, the initial experiences with the A320neo have been positive, confirming that the 15 percent lower fuel consumption mark was not only achieved but also slightly exceeded, despite of existing technical glitches. “We are very grateful to Airbus and PW, and will be even more so once teething problems are fixed!” Spohr joked.

RELATED: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A320neo Low-Key Lufthansa Launch

RELATED: Airbus A320neo: Delivered!

P1820569The CEO of Lufthansa was not the only one to talk about the PW 1000G issues. Fabrice Brégier, Airbus President and CEO, announced that the company will ramp up the deliveries once the problem is solved.

At the present time, the permanent solution proposed by PW implies a hardware fix that has already been implemented. However, a required software update will be completed in April. The technical issue is known to cause engines to run in idle during three minutes before taxi. Last December, Qatar Airways, which was supposed to be the launch operator, declined to take delivery of the aircraft under such technical constraints.

REPORT: Airbus to Swap A320neo Deliveries, Lufthansa Becomes Launch Operator

Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo would now become the second operator to receive the A320neo. Last December, the carrier was notified of delays in the delivery due to “industrial reasons.” According to Brégier, the delivery is subject to “customer confirmation.”

RELATED: Airbus to Delay IndiGo’s A320neo Delivery

“We are opening a new chapter in commercial aviation, and I am confident that the A320neo will support Lufthansa’s objective to raise its environmental performance. The A320neo not only cuts emissions at every operational stage but also halves its noise footprint compared to previous generation aircraft,” The CEO also announced that the 15% mark achieved to date will be taken to 20% by 2020 as the program matures.

This week, the first CFM-powered A321neo flew for the first time. Brégier announced that the PW variant is due to fly in March.

RELATED: First A321neo Successfully Completes First Flight

After the presentation, the A320neo took off from Hamburg- Finkenwerder in a special flight with flight number LH9917 with guests and media staff bound to Frankfurt, with a short stopover at Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel. The aircraft was adorned with a special logo. “First to fly A320neo – Less noise. Less fuel. Less CO2” placed at the rear fuselage.

Currently, Lufthansa has ordered a total of 116 A320neo family aircraft to be delivered in the next years. The airline is also getting ready to take delivery of its first A350 at the end of this year. According to Spohr, the German carrier is expected to receive 52 new aircrafts during 2016.

Editor’s noteWe want you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Why? Every Saturday morning, subscribers receive a summary of our best stories of the week, along with exclusive content. from our massive archives. Subscribe today by clicking here!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Image Gallery and Personal Reflections From Boeing 737-8 MAX First Flight

The new Boeing 737-8 MAX fights a crosswind approach into Boeing Field to complete its first flight.

The new Boeing 737-8 MAX fights a crosswind approach into Boeing Field to complete its first flight.

Photos and Story By: Brandon Farris / Published: January 31, 2016

On Friday the Boeing 737-8 MAX took to the skies for the very first time beginning a year long flight test campaign that is expected to wrap up in the first quarter of 2017.

The MAX is Boeing’s response to Airbus and its NEO which just had its first delivery to Lufthansa earlier this month in the form of the A320. Boeing was able to get MAX off the ground ahead of schedule by three days as it wasn’t expected to actually fly until Monday February 1st which is a good sign as the manufacturer actually gets a head start on its test campaign.

N8701Q is the first of four Boeing 737-8 MAX test airplanes and will eventually be delivered to the launch customer Southwest Airlines in November of 2017. This photo review displays all angles from the departure from Renton, a couple of inflight photos from Boeing and then on to the arrival and post flight press conference at Boeing Field.

Renton Departure

The morning begins at 5:45am to my buzzing alarm, an excitement begins to settle in as my brain quickly clicks to realize the fact that the Boeing 737-8 MAX is about to take to the skies on its first flight While it was not scheduled until 10am, media had to meet at 7:45am and Seattle traffic on a Friday morning soggy commute is not a reason you want to miss your date with history.

As expected the traffic was in full force and we arrives into Renton on a raining morning at about 7:15am to wait for the bus to the Renton Airport. As we wait with other members of the media, Boeing sent out an email alert that the first flight had been moved up to 9:30am to depart ahead of the winds and squally weather that could prevent the first MAX to take to begin its first mission. We arrived airside at about 8:20am. Between the rain, slight wind we were still able to feel a palpable buzz in the air.

As thousands of employees make their way to designated viewing areas along the runway, even in the pouring rain, nearly every single one of them is walking with a smile on their face as they understand what an important step this is for the carrier in the narrowbody market. To your everyday average traveler, the Boeing 737-8 MAX looks just like any other 737 that has been gracing the skies for the past 49 years seen around the globe as nearly 9000 in total have been delivered to hundreds of airlines.

CEO Ray Conner awaits in the rain.

CEO Ray Conner awaits in the rain.

As the rain continued to pour a “Thank You Team” with a 737 tail banner lifted above the crowd to a cheer as the clock continues to get closer to showtime. Finally, at 9:40am. Boeing MAX 1, IA001, N8701Q, dubbed the “Spirit of Renton” began to taxi out of the East Side stall four and takes a left turn down taxiway Bravo for the end of runway 34.

Thank You Team banner

Thank You Team banner

At 9:45, Boeing MAX 1 lined up on 34 as it waits for the T33 chase plane to set up for the departure. Aas the T33 made its run down the west side of the field, the Spirit of Renton released the brakes and began its roll down 34 for a max power take off. Using about 2/3rds of the runway, the first Boeing 737-8 MAX rotated gracefully into the Seattle sunshine and lifted off at 9:46am to begin its two and a half hour first flight to monstrous applause and roars from the crowd that was even louder then the departure as the new CFM Leap-1B engines quietly propelled the aircraft skyward. Those who have helped build the 737 into the workhorse that the aircraft has turned into for some airlines as they watch the latest edition of it take to the skies after nearly 50 years of sweat and blood that have been sacrificed for the type.

Following the take off, all the media hopped back onto the bus to head back for our cars. From there it was a mad rush down to Boeing Field as you had to get there quickly just in case the aircraft has an issue and needs to return early.

As luck would have it the flight would continue to go to plan and we arrive to the latest news that it was still about an hour and a half out. In the interim, we were given a quick look at the new Seattle Delivery Center where most 737s are handed off to customers.

Senior VP Pat Shanahan gives the camera a smile after the MAX lifts off for the first time.

Boeing Senior VP Pat Shanahan gives the camera a smile after the MAX lifts off for the first time.

While we were driving over Boeing shared these two great images with the media from inflight and showed the Boeing 737-8 MAX with its gear up at a cruising altitude between FL 150 and 250 above the inclement weather below.

Seattle Arrival

Most of the media were tracking the flight on many different resources from Flightaware to Flightradar24 and watched what the airplane was doing. After much anticipation, at about 12:15pm we received word that it’s time to head back out to the runway to capture the first landing of the Boeing 737-8 MAX. Everyone kept an eye to the skies and their viewfinders as The Spirit of Renton edged ever to so close to Boeing Field in an attempt to be the first to spot in and alert everyone to where it was in the approach process.

Around 12:45pm she broke into view on top of the Port of Seattle cranes and began her final approach path down for 13R, crabbing most of the way down as Captain Ed Wilson (pilot-in-command) and Captain Craig Bomben fight a strong crosswind on the approach. As they shoot the top of the runway numbers one final strong tap on the rudder straightened the MAX out for the center line. They gracefully floated down about 1500 feet down the runway before finally making contact back with the ground and threw the CFM Leap-1B engines into reverse thrust and bring the aircraft to a quick halt.

After exiting the runway, the Spirit of Renton taxied down taxiway Bravo to the Boeing Seattle South Gate where it was marshalled to a stop, the Leaps were shutdown, and MAX was towed into the Boeing ramp to the awaiting journalist, VIPs, staff, and executives.

After N8701Q blocked in, where the press conference was going to be held, ground agents pull up the staircase and opened the main cabin door. Captain Wilson and Captain Bomben emerged from the cabin with a triumphant but understated thumbs up as they deplane. Greeting them is Boeing CEO Ray Conner and their families with copious smiles to go around.


From there the press conference is held with the two pilots and one of the 737 bosses who take questions from the media about the flight and program, then the time comes for pictures with members of the 737 team and the pilots infront the MAX before the pilots are dragged away to a post flight briefing to discuss with the engineers how the flight went and bring up anything significant that happened.

Overall the Boeing 737-8 MAX is one sharp looking aircraft in comparison to the NG 737s now being delivered. While the Split-Scimitar was a visual and more importantly fuel burn upgrade to the current 737s in comparison, the new winglet on the MAX become the centerpiece. The chevrons on the back of the CFM Leap-1B engines, echoing  the 787 and 747-8, are very eye appealing. The 737 MAX overall will surely be a welcome addition to the skies.

RELATED: The First Boeing 737 MAX Takes to the Skies



Editor’s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Contact the photographer at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

EXCLUSIVE GALLERY: Boeing 737 MAX Taxi Tests Complete

016_3856All Photos By: Brandon Farris / Published: January 29, 2016

The Boeing 737 MAX completed its last major hurdle as it prepares for its first flight today. Our photographer Brandon Farris was on hand to capture this gallery of the historic first taxi ever for the 737 MAX, N8701Q, that will eventually be delivered to Southwest Airlines.

RELATED: The Boeing 737 MAX Makes First Flight


Editor’s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Contact the photographer at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Third Time’s the Charm? Qantas Resumes Nonstop Service to San Francisco

By: Kendrick Dlima / Published: December 31, 2015

The morning of December 18th marked a special day for travel between the United States and Australia. Qantas resumed non-stop service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Sydney (SYD). Service begins five times per week, and then increases to six times per week in February 2016. The flight is operated by the rare Boeing 747-400ER, seating 353 passengers with 14 in First Class, 52 in Business Class, 32 in Premium Economy, and 255 in Economy. SFO currently has flights to SYD on United Airlines, but this new service will allow passengers to have a large number of destinations within Australia to which they can connect with, from SYD. SFO also has flights to Auckland (AKL) on Air New Zealand. United Airlines will launch new service to AKL and Fiji Airways will start service to Nadi (NAN), both in the summer of 2016.


In June 2015, Qantas and American Airlines announced a joint venture for their flights across the Pacific. They will shift to a “route revenue share agreement”. In the agreement, American Airlines will begin flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and SYD. Qantas will cut 5 flights per week from LAX, 4 to SYD and one to Brisbane (BNE), giving them an extra plane, which will be sent to SFO instead. In total, this will increase the amount of seats in the US-Australia market by 9 % (Qantas Newsroom, 2015). “We expect to see the strong growth in U.S. visitors coming to Australia continue, because of the strengthening U.S. economy but also because of the investment AA will make in promoting their new route. The world’s largest airline will be talking a lot more about Australia in their home market, and that’s great news for tourism,” said Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce.

The announcement of new trans-Pacific service via American Airlines and Qantas. Image: Courtesy of Roberto Leiro

RELATED: American, Qantas to Expand Trans Pacific Operations

RELATED: American Airlines Flies Down Under

Qantas has a rich history in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sir Kingsford Smith, famous Australian World War I aviator began the first ever trans-Pacific flight to Australia in nearby Oakland (OAK). The flight was operated by the “Southern Cross”, a Fokker F.VII on loan to Smith from American businessman and aviator, Allan Hancock. A scale model of the “Southern Cross” hangs from the ceiling of the Louis A. Turpin Aviation Museum in the International Terminal of SFO. In 1954, Qantas began service to SFO with the Lockheed Constellation, stopping in NAN and Honolulu (HNL).  In 1959, Qantas switched service to the Boeing 707-138, a smaller version of the 707-120, used for the long segments in the route.


August 1962 Qantas Map Route.

In 1968, San Francisco and Sydney became sister cities, emphasizing the exchange of commerce and culture between the two waterfront cities. As the 747 was introduced to the route, the stop in NAN was eliminated, leaving HNL as the only fuel stop. However, in 1995, Qantas decided to leave SFO to focus on their American operations in LAX.

In 2006, marking eleven years without the “Flying Kangaroo”, Qantas resumed service to SFO from SYD. This time, the service was nonstop. In addition, they operated a 5th freedom flight from SFO to Vancouver (YVR) using the B747-400ER which would have normally spent the entire day on the ground in SFO. The continuing flight to YVR ended in 2008, but the flight to SYD lived on. In 2011, Qantas decided to terminate their service to SFO. Although the loads were decent, they recognized that there would be a greater demand if they moved the flight to Dallas (DFW). There are far more opportunities for connections in North America on their Oneworld partner, American Airlines.

Qantas is the fourth new airline to begin service to SFO this year after Turkish Airways, Copa Airlines, and Air India. To commemorate that event, December 18th was named “Qantas Day” in the city of San Francisco by Mayor Edwin Lee. Australia, a country to visit that is on the bucket lists of many Americans, is now very easily reachable with this new non-stop service. Hopefully, the third time’s a charm and Qantas will be here for the long run.

KendrickKendrick Dlima is an contributor who has always been passionate about aviation. He is from San Jose, CA, and grew up spending most of his weekends visiting the three major airports in the Bay Area. He is currently majoring in Aerospace Engineering at California Polytechnic State University. He enjoys photography, traveling, and of course, flying. You can email him at


Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

TAM Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350 XWB

By: Roberto Leiro / Published December 18, 2015

Following a ceremony held in Toulouse yesterday, LATAM Airlines Group, made up by LAN and TAM Airlines, took delivery of its first A350 XWB, thus becoming the first airline in the Americas to operate the aircraft and the fourth worldwide.


TAM’s A350 fleet will be configured in a premium two-class layout with 348 seats; 30 Premium Business Class seats and 318 in Economy. The carrier will receive in total 27 A350 XWBs in the coming years. Beginning with the 4th delivery, the A350 fleet will wear the new but yet to be revealed LATAM Airlines corporate identity scheme, as announced last August.

A350 (2)

RELATED: The First Airbus A350 for TAM Takes to the Skies

RELATED: LATAM is Born: The New Brand for LAN, TAM Airlines and Affiliates Announced Today

RELATED: LAN, TAM Airlines Announce Passenger Experience Upgrades

“Adding this aircraft into our fleet not only proves our commitment to maintaining one of the youngest and most modern fleets in the world, but it also strengthens our relationship with Airbus, a true partner with whom we have grown in the last decades,” said Roberto Alvo, CEO of International & Alliances, LATAM Airlines Group.

TAM will start operating the A350 XWB in January 2016 between Sao Paulo and Manaus as part of continued training and crew familiarization. Then, the carrier has selected the routes Sao Paulo – Miami and Sao Paulo – Madrid in April as the first international destinations of the aircraft.

“The A350 XWB brings us the best of both worlds, complementing our existing eco-efficient fleet and the best in aviation technology to ensure even greater levels of comfort for our passengers,” said Claudia Sender, CEO of TAM S.A.

TAM and Airbus have a close commercial relationship since 1998, when the carrier took delivery of its first A330-200. Since then, the airline relies on the A320 family aircraft for its short-to-medium haul operations, and on the A330-200 for its long-range routes. Together, LAN and TAM operate 250 Airbus airliners, making the LATAM Group the largest Airbus operator in South America, ranking among the top-10 Airbus customers worldwide.

Airbus has delivered 13 A350 XWBs in 2015 to Qatar Airways, Vietnam Airlines, Finnair and TAM. The airframer has recorded a total of 775 firm orders of the A350 XWB to date, mostly from its -900 variant.

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

Editor’s note: Have you subscribed to our weekly newsletter yet? Click here to subscribe today for a summary of our best stories, along with exclusive subscribers-only content.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

First in Europe and First to Fly to North America: Finnair Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350

By Cody Diamond in Toulouse / Published October 7, 2015

Today, Finnair took delivery of its first Airbus A350-900 XWB, making it the first European and the world’s third operator of the type. In a ceremony at Toulouse, the aircraft was handed over at the Airbus Delivery Center.



IMG_5815The first airplane, registered OH-LWA, is the first of nineteen A350-941’s that Finnair is to receive through 2019, and it is the 18th A350 built. Finnair will receive the second aircraft in November and five additional A350s in 2016, four in 2017, four in 2018, and the final four in 2019, all of them powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines. OH-LWA rolled out of the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse in June of this year, with test registration F-WZFM applied. The airliner made its first flight on September 16, 2015, and has undergone flight testing and pre-delivery checks since that date.

The Airbus A350 fleet will replace the existing seven fuel thirsty A340-300s, which are due to be retired between 2016 and 2017. The A350s will serve alongside eight A330-300s, all delivered to Finnair in the last few years.

As the A340s retire, the A350 will be considered for the leisure market Finnair serves. Pukka Vauamo, CEO of Finnair stated that “it will be our main airplane”.

IMG_5618“The A350 is a new and exciting chapter in Finnair’s 92 year history and will give our passengers a new and modern experience. It is truly a proud moment for all Finnair employees who have worked on this airplane. We are extremely proud to be the first European carrier to receive the Airbus A350.” Vauamo added “This aircraft takes customer service to a new level. Finnair’s A350 has already won awards for its design. We are a service company and this is what we do. The A350 will provide every passenger with a unique Nordic experience and wireless connectivity should they desire,”

Finnair relies on the A350 to expand into Asia, and intends to twofold its Asian traffic by 2020. launching service to Guangzhou and Fukuoka next year. Its European destinations are optimally timed for connections to the Far East.

The Chief Pilot of the A350 at Finnair is Captain Marko Valtonen. Captain Valtonen has flown the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, DC-10, and Airbus A320 and A330. “The airplane is a joy to hand fly, it is even more precise than the A330, which already has excellent flying characteristics,” he remarked.

The A330 and A350 share a common EASA type rating, and will be one pilot group at Finnair. Every A350 at Finnair will be delivered with 180 minute ETOPS certification, and the type itself is capable of 370 minute ETOPS.

Beginning on October 9 through October 18th, Finnair will fly the A350 to Amsterdam, Oslo, Barcelona, Malaga, Hamburg, Brussels, Berlin, Gothenburg, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Munich, London-Heathrow, and Copenhagen. Not all destinations will be served daily by the A350. Long haul flights to Shanghai will begin on November 21. The A350 will eventually be used for flights to Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore in the near future.

“We intend to be the first to fly the A350 to North America by December. JFK is a premium destination for us, and we certainly want to fly the A350 there, seasonally at first,” Juha Järvinen Finnair’s Chief Commercial Office explained. He went on to say that the future at Finnair is one with Airbus aircraft. Finnair is also the launch customer of the Airbus A321 sharklet variation.

At the Airbus Delivery Center, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Brégier recalled that Finnair’s history with Airbus goes back to the Caravelle and the A300. “The A350 is an exchange of culture between Airbus and Finnair, and we are so grateful for Finnair’s input I’m developing the airplane for all of our customers. We are proud that Finnair is the first European operator and the third A350 operator in the world,” he added.

Finnair is a first-time operator of this new generation of Rolls-Royce engines (the airline’s Caravelle were equipped with Avon engines). Rolls-Royce President Eric Schulz is proud that the operator has chosen the XWB and will provide a total care package to Finnair.

The first passenger flight will be to Amsterdam-Schiphol on October 9, and will be under the command of A350 Chief Pilot Captain Marko Valtonen.


Finnair’s A350s boast a 1-2-1 business class cabin, featuring 46 Zodiac Cirrus fully lie-flat seats with touchscreen In Flight Entertainment (IFE) and power outlets. The airplane is also equipped with 43 economy comfort class seats (35 inch pitch), and 208 economy class seats (31 inch pitch), for a total of 297 passengers, making it the highest capacity airplane in Finnair’s fleet.

Following delivery, Finnair will use the airplane on its European network, flying to several destinations for special one-time flights, serving a dual role of sharing the passenger experience and crew familiarization.

For crew familiarization, each flight must be a minimum of one hour of block time. Juha Jarvinen explained that the flights within Europe are a great opportunity to share the uniquely Nordic experience and accomplish landing requirements for the crews. Finnair has three qualified A350 captains presently and all initial flights will be flown with two Captains.

While the first eight A350s will have the same initial configuration, the last eleven may have variations. The A350 will be the first airplane in the Finnair fleet to have a purser instead of an in flight leader, which will enable the airline to deliver a more personalized service. Finnair’s A350s will also have a dedicated ladies’ restroom,


IMG_5590Today’s delivery flight, symbolically Finnair Flight 1350, featured approximately 200 invited guests to celebrate the arrival to Finland of the new flagship aircraft. Boarding was complete at approximately 1:35 pm and just before pushback from Spot Z130 at the Airbus Delivery Center, Captain Jari Paajanen announced “let’s go home”.


A flight time of just over three hours was announced, and at exactly 2 pm local time, Finnair 1350 departed Toulouse-Blagnac’s Runway 32R into partly cloudy afternoon skies. Right after takeoff, in accordance with Airbus delivery tradition, Captain Paajanen rocked the wings, saying goodbye to Toulouse. After a brisk climb, OH-LWA leveled off at FL430 (43,000 feet). Once leveled off, lunch and champagne were served. The airplane was amazingly quiet, and there was no turbulence throughout the entire flight. We cruised high above the overcast covering much of Central Europe. Inside the cabin, the mood lighting simulated both blue sky and sunset, as our flight encountered both.

Finnair-A350Shortly before 5:45 pm, we commenced our descent for Helsinki-Vantaa, and we landed on Runway 04R at 6:08 pm. A water cannon salute was received and we blocked into the gate at 6:16 pm after being towed in, as Gate 31 was not fit for powered on A350 arrival..yet.

Editor’s noteKeep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

First Southwest Airlines International Flight Lands in Houston


Flight 2207 on the gate screen at Aruba Airport.

By Jack Harty / Published March 9, 2015

HOUSTON, Texas – On Saturday, Southwest Airlines Flight 2207 did not just mark Southwest’s first flight between Aruba and Houston; it also marked the carrier’s first international arrival into Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport. Now Houston is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. to have two international airports.

Back in 1971, Southwest Airlines started flying between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio with three Boeing 737s, and over the years, the airline rapidly expanded its reach from coast to coast. Up until it acquired AirTran Airways in September 2010, Southwest only flew within the continental U.S., but since AirTran flew to a dozen cities outside the U.S., this meant that Southwest would too.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Perry Miller of Houston Hobby Airport

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

Now that Southwest would have international access thanks to its AirTran acquisition, Southwest started looking into starting international flights in and out of Houston, but the airline would have to win over the city’s approval to build an international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport where has build up a large presence.


The entrance into William P. Hobby Airport.

To try to get the city of Houston on-board, Southwest launched the “Free Hobby” campaign in 2012, which almost sparked a war in Houston. Many in northern Houston were concerned that this would cause significant changes to United’s presence at Intercontinental Airport, but for those in south Huston, they would be able to fly out of an airport closer to their home.

Over the next few months, the city council, along with city leaders, held many debates about building an international terminal at Hobby Airport before it would go the city would make a final decision. Plus, United was very vocal about preventing Hobby from becoming an international airport.IMG_6478

Ultimately, Southwest won approval from the city of Houston to build the international terminal. The new $156 million, five-gate international concourse is still under construction. The new facility will increase capacity for all airport functions and add a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.

An airport spokesperson says that opening day is expected sometime mid-October. He also explained that Southwest will get preferred treatment at four of the five gates, and the airport is actively looking to add another international airline at Hobby once the new terminal opens.IMG_6335


U.S. Customers and Border Protection Pre-clearance area at Aruba Airport.

Southwest has big plans for international expansion in Houston, and back in December, the carrier announced it filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to start flights to six international destinations this fall once the new international concourse opens.

Pending government approval, Southwest plans to launch new international flights from Houston to Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico. Plus, Southwest also plans to launch flights to Belize City, Belize and San Jose, Costa Rica from Houston.

“This is an exciting first step in achieving our goal of establishing regional international air service at Hobby Airport,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz.  “We are making dramatic progress on the new international concourse building and have a definitive route map now available from the team at Southwest Airlines. The importance of strong connectivity with Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be overstated in Houston and these flights will undoubtedly strengthen those business and cultural ties.”

Now Taking Off: Aruba-Houston


I Heart Aruba is a popular sign near The Renaissance Hotel in Aruba that many enjoy taking pictures with.

Although the new five gate international terminal at Hobby is expected to open in Fall 2015, U.S. CBP pre-clearance–which provide U.S. border inspection in certain foreign countries including Aruba–helps make it possible for Southwest to start Saturday-only international flights in and out of Houston sooner to Aruba. With pre-clearance, customers are able to deplane in Houston without further CBP inspections into the domestic terminal, quickly claim baggage and depart the airport, or make seamless connections to more than 40 destinations Southwest serves from Hobby.IMG_6457

“CBP’s Pre-clearance program allows us to deliver early on the promise we made Houstonians to couple our low fares and high-value Customer Service with Heart to places outside the U.S.,” said Teresa Laraba, Southwest’s senior vice president of customers. “This is just the beginning of a very big 2015 for our Houston employees and customers with an additional six destinations across three countries coming online at Hobby later this year.”

The First Flight


The gate area was all decorated at Aruba Airport.

Many passengers were expecting 2207 to be an ordinary Southwest flight, but upon arriving at the gate, they would soon find out that they were about to join Southwest on a special occasion.

Several members of the media and Southwest employees arrived at the airport several hours early in order to attend a small ceremony with airline, airport, and city officials before the inaugural flight to Houston. Airport employees started decorating the gate area with hundreds of balloons the night before, and a catering company set up a table offering complimentary drinks and snacks. Near the podium, there was a cake in the shape of the island and had a Southwest plane (in cake form) on top of it.

IMG_6386As passengers started arriving at the gate, many were curious to know why there were reporters and balloons at their gate. They soon learned that they would be on the first international flight into Houston Hobby.

About two hours before departure, a small ceremony was held at the departure gate. Both Southwest, the Aruba Tourism group, and the airport exchanged gifts. The CEO of Aruba Tourism explained that she was very happy that Aruba has played an important role in Southwest’s international expansion (it was the first first international city a Southwest plane departed to on July 1 as well as the first international destinations for Houston). All parities made it clear that this new link with Houston (even though it is seasonal), will help reach deeper into the United States.


Original Houston-based flight attendants who have more than 90 years combined of flying for Southwest Airlines.

About 40 minutes before departure, boarding began, and within 20 minutes, everybody was seated and ready to go. Before the door was closed, the Houston-based flight attendants—who have more than 90 years of experience combined —posed in the jetway with Aruba’s flag right before departure, and we were off.

At 1:30 p.m. local, we began a quick take off roll and started our trek to Houston. The flight was pretty uneventful. There were some special announcements—including free drinks—throughout the flight, but most were enjoying their last nap while still being on vacation.


Off in the distance, downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center can be seen.

Prior to initial descent, Dan Landson, a senior communications specialist at Southwest, asked a few trivia questions about Southwest Airlines and handed out a few prizes to the inaugural passengers.

After a quick descent, Southwest Flight 2207 became the first commercial international flight to land at Houston Hobby in 41 years and Southwest’s first international flight. As the aircraft approached the gate, a traditional water cannon salute was provided by the Houston Hobby fire department.

Dozens of Southwest employees greeted and cheered as passengers disembarked from the flight, and there was even another cake waiting. Minutes later, Southwest employees were back hard at work turning the aircraft from Aruba around to head to north Texas.IMG_6528

Related: Southwest Has Left The Country


Contact the author at

Contact the editor at

Disclosure: Southwest Airlines and the Aruba Tourism Group provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover this story.  Our opinions remain our own.

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Bombardier CSeries CS300 Achieves First Flight

By Seth Miller / Published February 27, 2014 / Photos by author

IMG_9708-001The Bombardier CS300, the newest commercial aircraft on the market, made its maiden flight just after 11:00 a.m. today at Montreal’s Mirabel airport. The larger CSeries variant follows the smaller CS100, which took to the skies 17 months ago.

EXTRA: Bombardier CSeries Completes First Flight

For Bombardier, this is a significant step forward for a project which has seen its share of challenges. As a clean-sheet” aircraft design, such challenges are not unexpected; Boeing and Airbus experienced similar delays with the 787 and A350, respectively. Bombardier’s new CEO, Alain M. Bellemare, described the event as “an inflection point” in the CSeries project “where we’re finally reaching momentum and we can go to market with a solid product for our customers.”

bombardier-cs300-first-flight (11)

The test flight came on the second day of the three-day window Bombardier allotted for the event. Initial plans to run the test flight on Thursday were hampered by cold weather, wind and snow earlier in the week in Mirabel; that weather prevented final pre-flight testing from happening. It is colder today than earlier in the week – probably the coldest first flight ever – but the low temperatures did not prevent the first flight.

EXTRA: Bombardier Announces Executive Shake-up; Posts 4Q, 2014 Losses

With both the CS100 and CS300 now flying, the company is able to aggressively push
towards the completion of the flight test regimen and move towards
entry in service. It is also worth noting that the CSeries plan is somewhat unusual in having both types flying test flights concurrently rather than a sequential process of EIS on the first followed by testing of the second. Delays in the CS100 test program can be blamed in part for these circumstances.

bombardier-cs300-first-flight (2)

The CSeries aircraft promise a more comfortable passenger cabin combined with lower costs for the airlines and quieter operations for the passengers and those who live near the airports. And, while the interior of the CS300 is not yet on display to media, the noise aspect
was demonstrated during the first flight departure; the CRJ900 – a quiet plane in its own right – was notably louder than the CS300 flying just ahead of it during the first flight departure.

EXTRA: ANALYSIS: CSeries Flies; Further EIS Delay to 2016 Likely

Bombardier is targeting the 100-150 passenger market with the CSeries jets, a space which has been mostly abandoned by Boeing and Airbus and one which Embraer has indicated it will not enter. In that regard Bombardier has tremendous potential for the CSeries.


bombardier-cs300-first-flight (7)

The company has 243 firm orders today and Mike Arcamone, president of commercial
aircraft, suggests that additional orders are yet to come, “We have been in commercial discussions with a number of customers. Many of them have visited us in Mirabel. …We are tracking to our plan of 20 customers and 300 firm orders by EIS and are very confident in the status of our orders.”

EXTRA: Report: Where Are the Sales for Bombardier’s CSeries Jet?

In addition to confidence in the order book, Bombardier is expressing confidence in the flight test plan and progress towards EIS. With the CS300 in the air this morning, Bombardier had four CSeries test aircraft flying, working through the check-list.


Rob Dewar, vice president of the CSeries program, notes that the test plan is running (mostly) on schedule and that the most challenging tasks have already been completed, “The majority of the risks are behind us. It is now about executing the plan and we’re making good progress on that.”

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Bombardier’s Rob Dewar

Arcamone sees potential now only for one result, “There is no turning back, only moving forward. And we will do this with much confidence.” Below is a slideshow of photos from the event.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Seth Miller

Editor’s note: We want you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Why? Every Saturday morning, subscribers receive a summary of our best stories of the week, along with exclusive content. from our massive archives. Subscribe today by clicking here!


Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Etihad Launches Boeing 787 Dreamliner Flights

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 2, 2015

Etihad Airways - B787 Inaugural Photo

Etihad leaders cut the ribbon at the inaugural Boeing 787 flight. Image: Courtesy of Etihad

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways launched its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner into commercial service on February 1. The first flight marks the seventh carrier with orders for the Dreamliner in the Middle East region, joining Gulf Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian and Saudi Arabian Airlines. Etihad has 30 787-10s and 40 787-9s on order.

Etihad welcomed its first Boeing 787, adorned in the company’s freshly unveiled livery, in September 2014 in Seattle. during an elaborate display. On board, early -9 models will seat 235 in a three-class configuration. The aircraft will have eight first-class suites, 28 business class seats and 199 economy seats.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Unveils First Boeing 787

The carrier’s first 787 originally took flight on December 8, 2014. It was originally set to already be in service between the carrier’s Abu Dhabi hub and nearby Doha, but that schedule was shifted to yesterday’s start. Flights to Washington, D.C., and Mumbai are expected to begin on February 15, 2015.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways First 787 Takes Flight

The first flight, between Abu Dhabi and Düsseldorf, Germany, lasted for seven hours and 25 minutes.  The carrier held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the departure gate to mark the occasion. Etihad leaders in attendance included COO Peter Baumgartner and CCO Khaled Al Mehairbi. Passengers aboard the first flight were presented with special gifts, including luggage tags, passport holders and commemorative B787 certificates.

The first flight of Etihad's Boeing 787, in December 2014. Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

The first flight of Etihad’s Boeing 787, in December 2014. Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

As of December 2014, Boeing has 473 orders for the 787-9, 459 deliveries of the 787-8 and 139 orders for the 787-10. The top three customers of the type are: Japan’s All Nippon Airways with 80 orders (36 -8s and 44 -9s); aircraft lessor AerCap (an aircraft leasing company), with 74 orders (25 -8s and 49 -9s); and Etihad Airways with 71 orders (41 -9s and 30 -10s).

Cover image: Courtesy of Etihad

Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon. Click here to subscribe today!


Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Q&A with Thomas Lee, a Passenger Aboard the First Commercial Boeing 747 Flight

By Jay Haapala / Published January 27, 2015

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee has been involved in the aviation industry for more than 30 years. He was a founder of Aero-design Technology, Inc., which introduced inflight trash compactor technology to commercial airlines. He currently serves as director of marketing and innovation for Zodiac Aerospace, a global aerospace cabin interior company based in Paris, France.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first-ever commercial flight of the Boeing 747 on January 22, 1970; AirwaysNews spoke with Lee, who at the age of 17, was onboard the Pan Am World Airways flight, New York to London. Lee’s father was the equivalent of a frequent flyer, even though the mileage programs had not been invented yet. As a frequent flyer globally on Pan Am, the entire Lee family was invited to be aboard this historic flight. Lee has flown the inaugural flights of the 747-8, 787, and A380. At the time of the interview, he was flying on Qatar Airways’ first Airbus A350 flight.

Pan Am inaugurated the world's first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort.

Pan Am inaugurated the world’s first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee's flight certificate for the inaugural Boeing 747 flight aboard Pan Am. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor’s flight certificate. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AirwaysNews: Did you have any personal fears that the flight would be unsuccessful?

Thomas Lee: No, as a 17 year old, one is typically fearless. This is why most military personnel are age 17 to 22.

AN: Did any problems occur on the first commercial flight?

TL: Yes, during the take-off, we experienced a flameout in engine number four and had an aborted takeoff. This created a significant problem. This aircraft would need an engine replacement and could not fly. Fortunately, for Pan Am, a second 747 had been delivered by Boeing the day before and was in the hangar. However, this second aircraft had not undergone any preparation for flight. Pan Am had to waste a lot of time while preparing the second aircraft, known as “Clipper Victor,” for the inaugural flight to London.

They arranged five huge buses to take all the passengers from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey. We were there for over five hours having a party while the second plane was being readied. When we were driven back to JFK Airport, 30 people decided it was too dangerous to fly this first commercial 747 flight and did not board the aircraft and make the flight.

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Describe your experience on the first commercial 747 flight. Where you invited to be on it?

TL:  I was only 17 years old at the time of my flight on the Pan American Clipper Victor, [so] I obviously viewed the experience through a different set of perspectives. This was a transcendent moment, full of anticipation and excitement. As a teenager, climbing the winding stairs of the 747 to the upstairs piano bar and lounge, provided a sense of adventure that was almost surreal for an airplane experience. Even in what were relatively confined spaces, the uniformed attendants, the cordial bartender and the musician tinkling the piano keys created a bigger than life experience.

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: What was the most memorable part of the flight for you?

TL: Clipper Victor flight was filled with passenger ,including families and businesspeople in newly tailored suits, dapper hats, dresses and fine jewelry. During the 747 inaugural flight, passengers could walk freely into the cockpit and chat with the flight crew. In this current age of increasing volatility and tightened security, those particular areas are [now] understandably off limits.

AN: What was the atmosphere like onboard the aircraft?

TL: In 1970, I was a curious youth with an exhilarating sense of one eavesdropping on a uniquely breathtaking formal event. Rather than studying the textures of the padded cloth seats or analyzing the patterns on the glistening silverware, my observations were of a more general nature. The most vivid memories were of an extraordinarily large craft with an enchanting stairway ascending upward to a virtual Land of Oz. That, and a one-of-a-kind galley buffet necessitated when some of the catering equipment could not be transferred to the replacement aircraft after the original take-off malfunction.

The buffet on Lee's Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The buffet on Lee’s Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Tell us about the flight.

TL: The sensation upon entering the B747 was similar to the awe one might feel when first viewing the Grand Canyon. Keep in mind that this was the first wide-body, twin-aisle aircraft. So the step change from the much smaller, single-aisle aircraft was enormous. When we finally took off, the aircraft was lumbering along straining to slowly lift off and climb up to altitude.

As they could not transfer all the catering equipment when the second aircraft had to be prepared, they created a once-in-a-lifetime catering event. The passengers lined up in the aisles. A buffet was set up in the galley and we each filled our own plates and then went back to our seats to eat.

AN: Is there anything that you wish to say about the first flight?

TL: Clipper Victor was not only the inaugural 747 (first commercial flight) in history. Seven years later, it was the same exact 747 aircraft that was struck by the KLM 747 at Tenerife Airport, resulting in the worst aviation accident in history.

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Jon Ostrower, then with FlightGlobal (to the right) photo bombs the picture.
Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Cover image courtesy of AirwaysNews.

Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon. Click here to subscribe today!


Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!

Flashback: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

Story and Photos By Chris Sloan / Published January 22, 2015

Editor’s Note: As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the rollout of the first Airbus A380, on January 18, 2005, this week we take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Today, we rerun Editor-in-Chief Chris Sloan’s January 2008 story in Airways magazine, his first-person take on flying aboard Singapore Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight. 

On the evening of October 26, 1958, amidst a backdrop of glamor and anticipation, a Pan American Boeing 707 departed from New York’s Idlewild Airport bound for Paris-Le Bourget (Airways, December 2007). Although a BOAC de Havilland Comet 4 had preceded that inaugural ‘Clipper’ flight by a few weeks, it was the 707 that truly ushered in the jet age. My grandparents were on that Pan Am flight. Then a young airline aficionado, I would listen spellbound as my grandfather regaled me with the story of that history-making trip.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-at-singapore-changi-airport-gate-f-31-on-inaugural-morning_7604

EXTRA: Pictures and Story of the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Inaugural in October, 2007

When I first heard about the eBay auction of seats on the world’s first scheduled flight of the Airbus A380 by Singapore Airlines (SIA), I knew this was my opportunity to participate in my own piece of history. Though it was an incredibly difficult time to take a week off from my business, travel to the other side of the world from my home in Miami Beach, Florida, and, most importantly, leave my seven-month-old son, my supportive wife Carla urged me to realize this dream.

So with not a little trepidation I embarked on the tortuous process of bidding for tickets. Because of the nature of the event and the fact that all money raised would go to charity, this was no ordinary eBay auction. Bidders had to place a $1,000 deposit and provide proof of a valid passport. Seats would be released in arbitrary blocks over a couple of weeks to maintain interest. In order to guarantee a window seat in economy you were required to purchase a pair of tickets, so I had to find a travel companion. Finally, $2,700 later, my friend Oscar Garcia (a former 747 pilot) and I had bought our way into the airline history books.

SIA—a company to which the word ‘superb’ simply doesn’t do justice—then went to great lengths to fly hundreds of people, including Oscar and me, from all over the world to Singapore at massively reduced prices. Ramona Donan in SIA’s Los Angeles office was a heroine to me and many other U.S. travelers. I had a very narrow window in which to travel, and wanted my pre-inaugural flight to be aboard the acknowledged ‘Queen of the Skies’ in its waning days—a Boeing 747-400—which seemed poetic…Yes, I am an airline geek.

EXTRA: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Original Sales and Marketing Brochuressingapore-airlines-airbus-a380-at-singapore-changi-airport-gate-f-31-on-inaugural-morning_7596

At 0200 on October 25, I was ‘sleepless in Singapore’, not because of jetlag, but because in six hours’ time I would be taking part in literally the biggest air transport milestone in nearly four decades, one unlikely to be eclipsed for many years. A multitude of emotions and thoughts flashed through my mind. I had a strong connection to the Airbus A380 because when I ran production at TLC (The Learning Channel) cable TV network, I had overseen the creation of a documentary about the aircraft, hosted by John Travolta. I had visited the Toulouse factory as the first airplane was being completed. With all its production problems, commercial viability questions, controversies, fallout, and delays, I always rooted for the A380. Now I was happy that, for one day at least, the headlines would be celebratory, not derogatory.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-boarding-pass-october-25-2007-_7562

I had been envious of passengers on other first flights, but especially the one that occurred on January 21, 1970—the inaugural of the Boeing 747, also by Pan Am. For me, that day had arrived. I nurtured high expectations of one of the most thrilling moments of my life, but what made it so special would be completely unexpected, more personally profound, and revealed long after the gigantic Airbus had returned to terra firma on its first scheduled arrival into Sydney, Australia.

EXTRA: Airbus A380 Sales and Marketing Brochuressingapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-october-25-2007_7567

At 0500 we stepped into a terminal at Singapore’s Changi Airport that was nearly empty save for one streamer-adorned ticketing zone buzzing—and I do mean buzzing—with excitement. SIA had not missed an opportunity to make the event special, even at check-in. There was a paparazzi backdrop and red carpet where your picture was taken for your own custom stamp. Cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped as representatives of the international press added to the feeling that this was as big as a Hollywood premiere.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-october-25-2007_7558

Making our way to Gate F31 at 0600, we reached the boarding lounge that had been converted into a standing-room-only party/champagne buffet/press conference, replete with a chamber music quartet. At the boarding gate, two of the famed Singapore Girls standing in front of a yellow ribbon held sway over the crowd. At sunrise, the guests saw the real star of the show—A380‑841 9V‑SKA (MSN 13)—as it emerged from its cloak of darkness, tended to by a veritable army of ground crew.singapore-changi-airport-airbus-a380-inaugural-ceremony-gate-f31_7578

Around 0630, the flight crew showed up. You would have been excused if you thought U2’s Bono or Oprah had arrived. They were mobbed like rock stars, and seemed genuinely surprised by the adulation. Among the crew was a largely unnoticed pilot in a different uniform—Claude Lelaie, Airbus senior vice president flight division and, with Jacques Rosay, vice president and chief test pilot, first to fly the airplane.

Thirty minutes later, a beaming Chew Choon Seng, SIA’s CEO, took the stage to present a check for $1.3 million to three worthy charities: The Singapore Children’s Hospitals; The Singapore Community Chest; and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). With his first new Airbus delivered only 10 days earlier, if Chew was at all concerned he didn’t show it as he cut a yellow ribbon declaring the flight open.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-inaugural-morning-souvenir-shirts_7696

Boarding of Flight SQ380, bound for Sydney, began promptly at 0715, as Julian Hayward, the Briton who had paid $100,300 for two tickets in the ‘Suites’, was invited to be first to board. There was thunderous applause. New business and economy class passengers were next to board through the three-airbridge gate, with two fingers docked to the lower deck and one to the upper. The procedure was amazingly fast and smooth, silencing many critics.

Our bridge led to the upper deck. With people running around snapping pictures (myself included) and touring the airplane, I asked myself how this flight could possibly depart on time, and anticipated agitated crew-members making panicked announcements requesting everyone to take their seats to prevent an embarrassing late departure. My travel companion and I were seated in 77K and 77H in the intimate economy cabin upstairs.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-touching-down-in-sydney-airport-inaugural-morning_7762

Miraculously and calmly, with not a stern word from the crew, everything settled down, and precisely at 0800 we pushed back. We noticed ground crew-members on the ramp stopping to gawk at the new Queen of the Skies. There were also throngs of spectators in the terminal. I reflected that this is what it must have felt like to be a participant on those other great inaugurals: the Pan American Martin 130 China Clipper flying boat (in 1935), Boeing 707 and 747.

Our eerily quiet takeoff roll took all of 40 to 45 seconds. We later learned that the Rolls-Royce Trent 970 turbofans had been operating at only 76 percent thrust. With very little cargo and a modest fuel load, the A380 was primed to leap into the sky. At 0815 and 154kt, the behemoth rotated to wild applause, whoops, and cheers. Chills went down my spine as the reveille lasted over a minute. Climbing gracefully over Singapore, we indeed were kings of the world. The vast wing, designed for an even larger A380, put on a dazzling show with its two sets of triple ailerons vectoring us out over the South China Sea, onward south over Indonesia, to later rejoin land above northwestern Australia.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-take-off-singapore-airport-inaugural-morning_7754

We noticed, during climb, a slight glitch in the pressurization system, which caused some minor ear popping and a lack of air conditioning. But no other faults were apparent to us for the remainder of the flight. Twenty minutes into the climb, the seat belt sign was switched off (it wouldn’t come back on until descent), and to a cacophony of clinking seat belts being unfastened the party began.

As we leveled off at our initial cruise of 35,000ft the Singapore Girls (and Boys) came through the cabin with generous servings of Charles Heidsieck champagne, a finer vintage than that normally reserved for even business class. The convivial atmosphere was evocative of an era that ended in the seventies. With a male-to-female ratio of 7:3, it felt slightly more like a decorous stag party, with the elegance factor high. Friendships were forged, business cards exchanged, and glasses clinked as people of 35 nationalities immersed themselves in this once-in-a-lifetime shared experience. The whisper-quietness of the cruise, thanks to those tranquil Trents, only heightened the ambience.

Onboard were four pilots, 31 flight attendants, and 455 passengers. Of the latter, the youngest was 10 months old, the oldest a 91-year-old man in suites flying with six family members and his male nurse. The passenger manifest revealed that 28 percent were Australians, 14 percent were Singaporeans, 11 percent Britons, and 8 percent from the United States. Surprisingly, there were very few French and Germans. The couple in front of us, 50 percent of the representation from Germany, was the constant focus of two of that country’s TV news

As the drinks and canapé service continued, Oscar and I marveled at how the cabin attendants repeatedly performed excellent service with smiles and bonhomie, despite the jammed aisles. They were obviously proud to have been selected to operate the flight and, with a few exceptions, had never previously flown on an A380.

With scant chop in the cruise, and feeling like Jonah of biblical fame, we embarked on our tour of the cavernous airborne whale. Our upper deck perch revealed a cabin cross section which was essentially wider than that of an A340 stacked full-length on a wider cabin than a 747’s. Seat configurations of 2-4-2 upstairs and 3-4-3 on the lower deck yielded the widest economy seat I had ever sat in. The ultra-slim Weber seats had a footrest and nice recline angle, but were a little too firm. With a 34-inch (86cm) seat pitch, we weren’t complaining, however. There were thoughtful touches: a 10.6in (27cm)-wide KrisWorld screen, a vanity mirror in the fold-down tray, a seatback drink holder, coat rack, and even a small storage compartment for my glasses.

In spite of its magnificence, the most neglected feature onboard this flight was the next-generation Panasonic X2 KrisWorld system. It boasts 100 movies, 80 TV shows, 7,000 CDs, seat-to-seat calling, real-time news and travel information, and an outstanding graphics user-interface reminiscent of an Apple Macintosh. With the floorshow garnering the most attention, most screens were tuned to the Airshow.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-business-class-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7647

Moving forward into the upper deck business cabin, we were awestruck by the dramatic difference in noise and activity between the fun and frivolity in the back and sedate business class. The seats here, designed by James Park Associates, are very wide and high, almost like private suites themselves, and their occupants enjoyed complete privacy. The 60 sumptuous, tailored, leather seats—in a world-beating 1-2-1 layout in one long cabin on the upper deck—are the widest business seats in the sky. Two people can fit side-by-side in one of these plush airborne lounges. The seats are equipped with a superb 15.4in (39cm)-wide KrisWorld LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen into which you can plug a computer or iPod. The cabin felt so empty and businesslike that we almost felt sorry for the passengers.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-staircase-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7614

Dubbed ‘New Business Class’ by SIA, the product was supposed to debut on the A380, but because of delivery delays it was introduced on the airline’s 777-300ERs. This class, surprisingly, is the location of the only stand-up bar, which you would miss if you blinked. SIA clearly chose to forego the hype of showers, stores, and bars in favor of more space in all classes.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-singapore-suites-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7625

Descending the elegant staircase at the front of the aircraft while heading for first class, we felt we were in a ship. But when we turned the corner, we revised our impressions to that of a private Pullman railroad car. First class, as such, doesn’t exist on SIA’s A380s; it is called ‘Singapore Suites’. The airline levies a 25 percent surcharge for its premium cabins, and with good reason. These 12 suites are truly private rooms in a 1-2-1 layout. Designed by a French yacht designer and finished in rich red wood, they are almost three feet (91.4cm) wide and feature an entirely separate bed that can fold into a double bed in the middle suites. For those wishing to engage in a tête-à-tête with a visitor, each suite has another seat. An ultra-deluxe touch is the custom-designed duvets, from the House of Givenchy, for the fold-out bed. Indeed, the gilded age is alive and well in Singapore Suites.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-economy-class-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7670

After leaving this area of decadence, we made our way back to the party in the three lower deck economy cabins. Heading the ‘A List’ celebs was SIA Chief A380 Captain Robert Ting. He appeared almost shocked when he was mobbed for photographs and autographs. One woman jokingly asked who was flying the airplane, to which he responded while gesturing at his cell phone, “Which way do you want to go?” Ting graciously agreed to sign a copy of an Airways A380 issue (April 2005) and an A380 book. I guarantee that these cherished collectibles will never darken the pages of eBay. Finally, all the hero worship almost became too much for this apparently modest man as he departed economy class and, emulating Arnold Schwarzenegger, promised, “I’ll be back!”singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-landing-in-sydney-flight-deck-inaugural-morning_7739

Other notables  on the flight included Thomas Lee, 55, who had flown on Pan Am’s first 747 service, and whose company, Monogram Systems, designed the lavatory systems of the A380—which is why he was flushed with success! His wife Sally was the first president of the first Southwest Airlines flight attendant class. They turned heads with a plaque of two first commercial flight certificates: for the 747 and A380. Lee’s father had surprised him with the 1970 trip, and now he was doing the same for Sally and their daughter Briana. Sylvain Pascaud of LCL Productions—who had spent five years documenting the building of the A380 for Discovery—and his crew were busily filming their final segments. CNN’s Richard Quest held a simulated auction as he queried the cost passengers had paid for their tickets. Two passengers took orders for their very stylish custom-made ‘A380 First Flight’ T-shirts.

An entire family from Australia travelled together; the two sons had designed custom shirts as well, attracting much envy. An engineer from San Francisco celebrated his anniversary with ‘Happy Birthday’ sung by the crew and dry ice replacing candles. A travel agent from Perth, Australia, dazzled us with her stories of flying SIA’s key inaugurals, such as Singapore to New York-Newark (Airways, October 2004). Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran and his Singapore counterpart Sam Leong, who designed the inflight meals, wore chef’s uniforms and personally ensured the cuisine would be top-notch.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-business-class-catering-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7652

Many wondered aloud how SIA could outdo its already extraordinarily high cabin service levels. We would not be disappointed. So what kind of meal befits an occasion such as this? In economy, we were offered business class-quality meals and wine. I dined on a delicious Drunken Chicken starter, the main course of baked filet of Chilean bass with fish noodles, followed by Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Oscar chose the cos salad with Greek feta and seared beef tenderloin. The sommelier’s selection included a Rheingau Riesling Kabinett 2005 from Weinhauss Ress, and an Australian Elderton Barossa Valley Shiraz 2004. Our appetizing meals were served with aplomb by the wonderful cabin staff, who seemed pleased that people were back in their seats, so they could carry out their service.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-take-off-singapore-airport-inaugural-morning_7753

Throughout the flight, the tap on Singapore’s boundless generous was never turned off. We were given framed and laminated certificates, signed by CEO Chew and Capt. Ting, marking the occasion. The gift bags were bulging with a limited edition A380 model, Mont
Blanc pens, and other wonderful mementos.

A little more than six hours into the flight, over central New South Wales, Australia, the spoilers deployed, heralding our initial descent. Capt Ting came over the PA with yet another surprise: we would perform a low pass over Sydney Harbour. The cabin erupted into a cacophony of shouts and applause. Unfortunately, a low cloud cover dictated otherwise, and the fly past was scrubbed. Even Ting was disappointed. Unusually, the cabin crew began the second snack service during the descent. They would not be deterred from pleasing us even as the crowds again blocking the aisles rendered their jobs difficult.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-touching-down-in-sydney-airport-inaugural-morning_7761

At 1715, Ting slowed the airplane to 138kt (less than a 747’s landing speed) and the new Queen of the Skies kissed the runway at Sydney. Once again there was a volley of applause, and emotion hit a crescendo. Had the seatbelt sign not been illuminated, there would have been a standing ovation. During the rollout with thrust reversers deployed (only the two inboard engines are so equipped), we noticed the airport had ground to a halt, with cheering crowds of spectators, and TV news cameras on the ground and aloft in helicopters.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-model-sign-and-display-at-sydney-airport_7769

We blocked into the gate one minute early at 1724, seven hours and six minutes  after leaving Singapore. But no one really wanted to disembark. This was fortunate, as it took Sydney ground staff a few minutes to position the new A380-compatible airbridges. Oscar and I were last off after a special cockpit visit, courtesy of Capt. Ting. All of us were greeted by a clamoring media contingent , and were handed copies of The Sydney Morning Herald with a front page headline blaring ‘ Jumbo Lands In Sydney!’ We all became instant celebrities, if only for a moment.

The moment of truth arrived for A380 first-flighters when it came time to collect our baggage. I am sure extra staff had been rostered, because everyone had their luggage within 30 minutes, with most receiving it earlier. Heaving our bags of Singapore swag toward the terminal exit, we were serenaded by yet another quartet—this time in baggage claim.3-singapore-airlinesa380-brochure-2_22877

When we reached our hotel, we saw coverage of ‘our A380’s landing and arrival splashed across the world’s TV networks, the extent of which surprised even us. Capping off this remarkable and memorable day, Timothy Spahr, president of Spahr Aviation Advisors, invited everyone to a great A380 after party where he used a hacksaw to decapitate a scale model of the dethroned queen, a 747. We had gone from the sublime to the surreal, that much is certain.

EXTRA: Singapore A380 Brochures and Memorabilia

Sitting on an A340-500 18-hour flight to Newark from Singapore, reminiscing about one magical moment after another, it occurred to me why this was such a beautiful, profound occasion. In an era of a litany of bad news, worries for the future, and turmoil, it was truly uplifting to see what mankind could accomplish. I was too young to watch man walk on the moon for the first time, but I imagine that on a certain level this was what it was like when people came together to celebrate a truly historic occasion, one unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime, if only for a day. ✈

EXTRAPhotos from the inaugural Airbus A380 flight

Our celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the A380 rollout ends on Friday with two stories. Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara looks at the long-term prospects for the A380 and we’ll end with a Flashback Friday feature from Contributor Luis Linares on the A380.

Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon. Click here to subscribe today!


Contact the writer at

Contact the editor at

Did you like this article? Share it with your friends!
AA A321 Ad