Category Archives: Inaugurals and First Flights

Virgin America Celebrates First Flight to Hawaii

By: Staff / Photos by Ben Wang / Published October 2, 2015

Virgin America celebrated today the launch of its new service from San Francisco to Honolulu with a Hawaiian-style send-off for the airline’s inaugural flight to paradise.

File Nov 02, 8 58 33 AMThe inaugural flight included Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin America President and CEO David Cush, who said “This is a destination we’ve been interested in for quite a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right airplane in terms of capabilities to do it, and we do now.” The new flight was served by a brand-new Airbus A320 aircraft, appropriately named Pineapple Express, by the airline’s teammates.

“We are very excited about Hawaii. It’s a route that our Elevate members have been asking for” Cush added, who also thanked the authorities of San Francisco International Airport. “We thank you guys for getting us where we are.”

Sir Richard Branson also recalled that “I’ve never been able to afford to go to Hawaii by boat, never been able to swim to Hawaii, I’ve been to Hawaii once. We were trying to get around the world on a balloon, and we were almost there. As we got to America, there was this blanket of bad weather that we couldn’t get through and crashed 100 miles off Hawaii. Thank goodness a wonderful helicopter service was there to pick us up and took us back. We arrived at Hawaii on Christmas Day and had a wonderful Hawaiian welcome and we kissed the soil of America. It is the most wonderful place in the whole wide world. I am looking forward to going back.”

RELATED: Virgin America says “Aloha” to Hawaii

File Nov 02, 8 58 45 AMTo commemorate this first flight, the San Francisco-based airline transformed Gate 54 at Terminal 2 into an exotic tropical oasis, complete with hula dancers, Mai Tais, and island-inspired music as part of a pre-boarding island experience for travelers, who also received themed giveaways.

Hawaii is the number one tourism destination from the US West Coast. According to information from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the islands received over 3.3 million visitors in 2014, which “is a significant source of inbound visitors to the Hawaiian Islands and we look forward to welcoming Virgin America passengers from the Bay Area and across the airline’s U.S. network,” said George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA).

“We are pleased to see Virgin America giving our guests the broadest service options possible between the West Coast and Hawai‘i, boosting airline competition, adding seats, increasing accessibility to the islands and adding new jobs to our tourism industry” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates Virgin America’s new flights will generate $138.6 million in visitor spending and $14.8 million in tax revenue for the Aloha State each year.

Despite the optimism the market is considered to be very entrenched for legacy carriers. When questioned on how Virgin America is planning to attract high-level customers from these competitors, Cush believes that “It will be the same things we’ve done on other big Legacy entrenched routes. Our first routes were New York to Los Angeles and New York to San Francisco. You don’t get more Legacy than those routes. So, we go in, we provide good service, we have a lot of fun. We’ve got a better hard product than they do. We operate a great airline, on time, with good baggage performance… so, that’s the same thing we’re gonna do to Hawaii and it is how we beat these guys, in New York, also.”

“These are our best and most successful routes, we fly six times a day, from Los Angeles to New York, and five times a day San Francisco to JFK, and we’re quite optimistic in terms of how Hawaii will go for us, too” Cush added.

ANALYSIS: Virgin America Enters the Hawaiian Vortex – Part 1 / Part 2

Virgin America will expand its Hawaii service further on Dec. 3 when it begins flying between San Francisco and Kahului. “We are thrilled to be bringing our unique service to Honolulu and next month Maui, and we look forward to building lasting community ties with the state and people of Hawaii.”  Cush concluded.

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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.

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American’s 787 Dream Takes Flight With Passengers

By Chris Sloan / Photos by author unless otherwise stated  / Published May 7, 2015IMG_1996

CHICAGO, IL - At 9:23 AM local, American’s inaugural Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flight, AA 2320 operated by the second of five 787s delivered so far to AA, gracefully touched down at Chicago O’Hare to a large round of applause. Although short, the 1 hour and 52 minute  flight aboard N801AN was filled with lots of fun with many enthusiasts and frequent American Airlines fliers on-board. With that, American became the sixth carrier in the Americas to operate the 787. To say the absolute least, AA2320 was nowhere near a normal flight, but who would expect a normal flight with so many enthusiasts on-board American’s newest family member?

The Order and First Delivery

American Airlines placed an order for 42 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and options for 58 in October 2008. At the time, it became the second U.S. airline to place an order for the Dreamliner, following Continental (now United). The first airplane was expected to join the fleet in about four years, but unfortunately, the delivery would be pushed back several years as the Dreamliner suffered major design and production delays.

After American placed its order, Boeing made some changes; the airline originally only ordered the 787-9 variant, but for unknown reasons, Boeing opted to make some of American’s initial deliveries be the 787-8 Dreamliner which is the smallest 787 variant. Once this was firmed up, American would have 21 787-8s and 21 787-9s on order, but the All Things 787 Blog reports that American has 16 787-8s and 26 787-9s on order. AA is not replacing the 767 with the 787s on a 1:1 basis, but will retire thirteen 767s this year.

Photo by JDL Multimedia

Photo by JDL Multimedia

American’s first Boeing 787 made its first appearance when it rolled out of the paint shop in late October, and it was supposed to be delivered in mid to late November. However, the delivery date would be pushed back again and again until the first quarter of 2015. The delivery delays were due to a delay with delivery of the airline’s all-new business class seats designed by Zodiac Aerospace.

EXTRA: American’s 787 Makes First Appearance

EXTRA: Boeing, Airbus Show the Whip to Laggardly Seatmaker Zodiac

The first American 787 took to the skies on January 6, 2015, and it conducted several flight tests, before being delivered to American.

Photo by Brandon Farris

Photo by Brandon Farris

EXTRA: American’s First 787 Takes Flght

On January 23, 2015, Boeing handed over the keys to American’s first 787, and it was flown down to its main maintenance base and hub, Dallas/Ft. Worth. Once it arrived, American quickly began work on getting the aircraft ready for its first flight which would occur in May. Since the Dreamliner was a brand new aircraft to the fleet, the airline wanted to ensure that it could catch any issues and familiarize many employees with the new type to hopefully prevent any issues once it enters into service.

So far, American has taken delivery of five 787s with a total of 13 planned for this year, and it plans for eight to be delivered in 2016. Five were deferred to 2017-18 as American seeks to control capacity in international long-haul markets due to macro-economic conditions. 

Proving Flights

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Since taking delivery of its first Dreamliner on January 23, 2015, American has been flying its new Dreamliners on proving and training flights to help familiarize flight crews and airport ground staff with the new type before entering into revenue service.

The proving and training activities have occurred as close as Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco, Texas to as far as London Heathrow and Tokyo Narita. Whenever an airline introduces a brand new aircraft, there is always a lot of work to be done, and American wanted to ensure that it did a thorough job, especially when other airlines such as United had issues when it started flying their brand new 787s.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

About the time that tickets for the first 787 flights went on sale, American started flying the Dreamliner around south and west Texas for a few weeks. Many local media outlets in Texas reported on the training flights as large aircraft are usually a rare sight in these parts of Texas. Although these training flights were primarily for pilot training, American flew its 787 to other cities around Texas such as Houston to help prepare staff incase the aircraft ever needs to divert. Case in point, Waco received nearly 50 touch and go’s in one single morning.

Later on into the proving program, American deployed its 787s to Chicago and London to simulate real flights to help both the flight crews and airport ground staff. The airline also completed a proving run to Narita for polar validation. The fleet also completed 50 hours of validation flights for the FAA proving compliant operation to the FAA such as ETOPS.IMG_1993

Since January 23, American pilots have flown over 2,000 hours of training flights and completed over 1,000 landings. Now, the pilots do not just jump into the cockpit; a typical 777 pilot went through 15 hours of distance training, four days of ground school, six days of sim time, and 15-25 hours in the airplane. Many of the 200 qualified 787 pilots have had the added benefit of flying the training flights with real metal but no passengers before the type entered service. Once AA pilots transfer their type ratings over to the 787, they only fly on that particular type.

The First Flights

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, American announced that it would fly its 787s out of its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub to Chicago O’Hare, along with Beijing and Buenos Aires. American would only fly domestic flights from May 7, until it started flying the aircraft to Beijing on June 2, which launched the same day of the 787 using a 777-200, and Buenos Aires on June 4.

At the time of the route announcements, American revealed what the 787 cabin would look like, but it only released a handful of images and kept the doors to its 787s shut tight.

In late-April, American announced that it would also fly the 787 internationally out of Chicago to Tokyo Narita beginning in August, setting the stage for a possible 787 crew base at ORD.

Official Unveiling and The Interior


Photo by Mike Slattery

About a week before the inaugural flight, American held a small launch event where it invited a handful of people from the media and its employees out to one of its hangars at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport to officially unveiled its brand new aircraft.

At the launch event, American explained that its 787 will bring customers a “state-of-the-art international travel” experience in both Business Class and the Main Cabin. From international Wi-Fi to American’s signature Business Suites, there is definitely something that will impress everyone who boards the newest addition to the fleet. Unlike many carriers, American chose to do something special in introducing a new Business cabin product to their 787 which differs somewhat from that on the 777-300s and newly configured 777-200s and 767-300s.

American’s 787s have 28 Zodiac manufactured seats in 2 business class cabins; the seats are in a 1-2-1 seat configuration to allow every seat to have aisle access. Each of the 28 seats transform into a fully lie-flat 77-inch bed that provides customers with infinite adjustability, and the seat also offers what American says is “a unique ‘z-shaped’ lounge position for increased comfort.”  The J cabin seats are arranged in a front and rear facing configuration, not unlike British Airways Club World cabin. Every seat boasts a 16-inch touchscreen monitor with up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections. The IFE is the Panasonic eX2 platform while connectivity is powered by the Panasonic eX2 Connect Ku-band system. Plus, every seat will have dual universal power outlets and USB ports. Customers will be able to enjoy the entertainment with Bose noise canceling headsets. If passengers get hungry during the flight, there is a walk-up bar that will be stocked with a selection of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. American introduced a walk-up bar originally when it took delivery of the American 777-300ER in January 2013.

The 787 boasts 198 seats in the Main Cabin in a very tight 3-3-3 configuration, as has become commonplace in the 787. 56 of the seats in the Main Cabin are Main Cabin Extra seats which offer up to five more inches of legroom when compared to the regular Main Cabin seats. Although, the economy seats are a bit tight as in nine abreast configured 787s; the standard seats have a seat pitch of approximately 31 inches, and all Main Cabin seats are approximately 17-18 inches in width. Main Cabin Extra adds another 4 inches of pitch. Each seat in the Main Cabin is equipped with a power outlet, USB port, and personal in-seat entertainment system which boasts up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections.

EXTRA: Photos from American’s 787 Launch Event

On-Board the Inaugural Flight

Boarding started just before 7AM local, and it was a big congested as the gate area was filled with inaugural passengers and employees who came out to send off the 787 on its maiden passenger voyage. Fern Fernandez, EVP of AA’s worldwide marketing said “We are excited to be the first airline to bring the 787 to DFW….Later today we will launch the first route this aircraft is optimized for, DFW-Beijing.”IMG_1989

At 7:30 AM local, the Dreamliner lined up with runway 17 and began a whisper quiet, 40 second take off roll. However, the quietness was quickly broken up by cheers and applause as AA2320 soared into the sky. The flight took off with a weight of 356,000 pounds–46,000 pounds of those pounds was the fuel on-board, and we reached V1 at a quick 146 miles per hour.

The aircraft quickly climbed to 39,000 feet, and the pilots, Captain Charlie Savage (the Lead Air Check Airman with 150 type rates), Captain Bill Elder (the manager for American’s 787 Flight Training Program) had their work cut out for them as they had to deviate around quite a bit of weather.

However, the flight deck crew did an exceptional job keeping the ride smooth which allowed them to keep the seatbelt sign off for most of the flight so the passengers in the back were able to explore the aircraft. The crew were miraculously able to pull off a full service with the aisles in virtual party gridlock.

Captains Savage and Elder, greeting the assembled passengers, explained how ecstatic they were to be crew members to fly the inaugural flight, and throughout the flight. It was obvious that all of the flight crew members were excited to be part of the historic flight. In fact, the crew came together and pitched in to give every passenger a special commemorative coin.

Once we reached our cruising altitude, I started checking out my Business Class seat. I was in one of the forward facing seats which has a unique three point seat belt. The mini suite was nice and intimate with the seat being very firm. There is a visor that separated me from my seatmate, but it was locked into position.

The USB and power outlets are quite helpful and nice, and they are located right at shoulder level which is helpful as it does not require reaching around like on United’s 787 BusinessFirst seats.

The seat controls are on a small digital display which is conveniently located at eye level as well. An ergonomic feature of the seat controls is that you can adjust lighting and privacy indicators. The only obvious glitches in the flight were the connectivity and business class seats. The maddeningly slow T-Mobile KU satellite based system made modem dial up seem sprightly. The visors separating business class passengers were locked and able to retract. All in all, small minor issues on a very short flight designed precisely for working out the bugs.

IMG_1987The standup bar was not stocked on a short flight, but it will sure be a welcome when the airline puts the 787 on the DFW-Asia routes next month. The bar is not the showstopper that exists on AA’s 773 and reconfigured 772 fleets but is functional nevertheless.

All to quick, we began a quick descent into Chicago and gracefully touched down at 9:23 AM local to the mandatory applause.

After we landed, we did a quick victory lap around O’Hare so the media could take a few photos of the aircraft before we arrived into the gate.

Many employees greeted us when as we disembarked, and ground employees sprung into action to get the aircraft ready to head back to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

AA’s 787 launch was an upbeat experience that gives further credence to the carrier’s “NewAmerican” claim of service upgrades and fleet renewal. Beyond the obvious well known benefits of the 787, this inaugural flight stood out for the unbridled enthusiasm of the passengers and crew.


American Airlines provided roundtrip accommodations on-board the inaugural 787 flight. However, our opinions remain our own.

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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.

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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

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Best of Airways Magazine: First 747-8 Intercontinental Airline Delivery

By Chris Sloan / Published February 26, 2015

This article was originally published in Airways magazine in August 2012. All images courtesy of Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

LH 747 jpg

Compared to the 787 Dreamliner handover to ANA a few months earlier (Airways, February 2012), the 747-8 event was an elegant albeit muted affair (the actual contractual delivery had been made on April 25.) There were no massive rallies by Boeing employees or press extravaganzas, and local Seattle newspapers made no mention of the milestone, whereas the Dreamliner delivery was front page, top-of-the-fold news.

Understandably, unlike the 787, an entirely new design, the 747-8 Series is the fifth generation of the world’s most iconic airliner, one that changed the air transport industry. (Technically, the 747-8 is the 14th variant to be certificated under Federal Aviation Administration Type Certificate Nº A20WE, following the 747-100, 747-200B, 747-200F, 747-200C, 747SR, 747SP, 747-100B, 747-300, 747-100B SUD, 747-400, 747-400D, 747-400F, and 747-8F.)

The 747-8 delivered to launch customer Lufthansa is, in fact, the 1,443rd 747 built over a production run spanning four decades. However, the perception that the 747-8 is merely a derivative could not be farther from the truth; it is a 70%-new type compared to its predecessor, the Dash 400, which was first delivered 23 years ago, in January 1989 to launch customer Northwest Airlines.

Image: Courtesy of Boeing

Image: Courtesy of Boeing

The 747-8 represents the biggest step forward by far in the 4ó-decade-old 747 program (Airways, May 2011, June 2010 & April 2006). From viewpoints of capacity and size, it is the world’s longest passenger airplane and the first stretch ever of a 747, with a fuselage extension of 18ft 4in (5.59m) beyond the Dash 400, bringing the total length to 250ft 2in (76.25m) and surpassing that of the Airbus A340-600 by 3ft (0.91m). Not only is the upper deck on the passenger 747-8 lengthened as well—unlike on the 747-8F Freighter—but another statistic reveals that the Dash 8’s upper deck area alone equals that on the 737-700. Boeing claims an additional 26% cargo volume on the 747-8F over the 747-400F. Seating capacity on the Dash 8 in a typical three-class configuration is 467, compared to 416 on the 747-400. Theorectically, the approved maximum number of passengers is 605.

The Dash 8’s maximum gross takeoff weight of 987,000lb (447,696kg) makes it the heaviest aircraft—military or commercial—ever manufactured in the USA. Power is provided by four GEnx-2B67B engines, each generating 66,500lb (296kN) of thrust (the same type is offered on the 787).

Boeing claims the new 747 has the world’s most modern ‘wing/engine’ airliner platform, with raked wingtips on an entirely new wing design similar to that of the 787, eschewing the winglets of the Dash 400. Wing span increases from 211ft 5in (64.4m) on the 747-400 to 224ft 7in (68.5m).

Fuel capacity of the 747-8 is 64,055USg (242,470l, or  429,000lb/196t), including 3,300USg (12,500l) in the horizontal stabilizer tanks. The latter are deactivated to meet a certification requirement that no structural flutter can occur after any single failure. Engineering computer analysis revealed that flutter would be caused if a specific wing mounting strut for the outboard engines was to fail (it has never done so, however), and the tail tanks contained 15% or more of their fuel capacity. A redesign is expected by 2013 to allow the 747-8 to achieve its brochure range of 8,000nm (14,800km).

There is some carbon fiber-reinforced plastic incorporated in the airframe to reduce weight, but overall materials are similar to the Dash 400. The operating empty weight of the 747-8 is quoted as 470,000lb (213t) by Boeing.

The Boeing 747-8 cockpit.

The Boeing 747-8 cockpit.

On the flightdeck, 747-400 pilots would feel at home despite LCD (liquid crystal display) screens and a certain amount of FBW (fly-by-wire) technology, as on the 787.

Boeing claims all this modern technology translates into 16% and 11% greater fuel efficiency than the 747-400 and Airbus A380-800, respectively. Thanks to the new GEnX turbofans and the distinctively serrated, or ‘cookie cutter’, appearance of the aft edge of the cowls, the airplane is quieter, with a 30% smaller noise footprint than the 747-400.

From the passenger perspective, an updated cabin inspired by the 787 features bigger bins, higher arched ceilings, and LED (light-emitting diode) multi-spectrum lighting; however, Lufthansa is reportedly not using the latter feature. Window size is unchanged from previous 747s, but there is some difference with beveling on the window frames themselves.

Severe production delays and engineering problems seem commonplace with new airliners these days, but those in relation to the 747-8 pale in comparison to the  A380 and 787 Dreamliner, with the Intercontinental program around a year behind schedule. In comparison, the 747-100 was certificated in ten months and entered service less than a year after its first flight in February 1969.

Boeing has so far booked 106 firm orders for the new 747, of which 36 are for the Intercontinental. Boeing believes that eventually production will be evenly split between the passenger and freighter versions.

Initial customers for the 747-8 Intercontinental were from the Middle East for private transports; Lufthansa became the first airline to choose the 747-8 Intercontinental on December 6, 2006, with an order for 20 that is so far the largest for either variant.

Subsequently, five orders were placed by Korean Air and two by Arik Air of Nigeria. Air China has agreed to buy five, subject to Chinese government approval, and Transaero reportedly has a preliminary agreement for four.

Key milestones leading to delivery of the first Intercontinental included the maiden flight of the 747-8F on February 8, 2010. The 747-8, appearing in a striking Asian sunrise inspired orange livery was rolled out in a lavish ceremony on February 13, 2011 (Airways, May 2011), with the first flight occurring on March 20. Boeing handed over the first examples of the 747-8F and 747-8 to Cargolux (News on the Airways, January 2012) and the Qatar Amiri Royal Flight (News on the Airways, May 2012) on October 12, 2011, and February 28, 2012, respectively.

There was little ceremony involved with these deliveries. In fact, the Cargolux 747-8F merely ferried a few miles to SeaTac Airport, picked up a payload, and went into service immediately.

Lufthansa is due to retire one 747-400 for each 747-8 Intercontinental it receives, eventually replacing the entire 29-strong 747-400 fleet. The German flag carrier expects to take delivery of five Dash 8s in FY2012, and will be the sole airline operator until its 20 are received by 2015. This is, of course, provided the airline does not defer deliveries which, given Europe’s and Lufthansa’s financial difficulties, has been suggested. Nevertheless, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr emphasized that “it’s not our plan to defer.”

Joe Sutter, the Father of the Boeing 747, at the -8 handover ceremony.

Joe Sutter, the Father of the Boeing 747, at the -8 handover ceremony.

The Lufthansa 747-8 handover event was held at Everett’s Future of Flight Aviation Center, overlooking Boeing’s factory and flightline. In effect this was the 747-8’s coming-out party.

Mirroring the customer’s brand, the day was planned to be classy yet understated, efficient but not rushed. A morning press conference, followed by an onboard tour of the 747, lunch, delivery signing, ribbon cutting, and an on-time fly-away—all scheduled over a 5ó-hour period.

Nico Bucholz, Lufthansa’s executive vice-president group fleet management, revealed: “We’re not happy with the weight situation, yet it won’t restrict the use of the aircraft. On all our in-service fleet, even those in our fleet for ten years, we are never happy with the weight situation, so we are always trying to reduce this in order to save even more fuel.”

Reportedly, Lufthansa’s 11th and subsequent aircraft are due to fall more in line with expectations. Bucholz added that “certain things are better than Boeing promised.” He also indicated that satellite-based in-flight Internet connectivity would be installed by the time the sixth 747-8 is delivered next year.

Boeing agrees that the airplane is not yet perfect, but it is performing very well in all-cargo service thus far. Mark Feuerstein, the manufacturer’s 747-8 chief pilot, foreshadowed innovative advanced vertical navigation functions which would improve fuel burn. Elizabeth Lund, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP product development, noted that dispatch reliability on the Freighter is already at 97 percent—1 percent above the initial 96% projection, which the company seeks to increase. Bruce Dickinson, VP and chief project engineer for the 747-8, said, “In spite of these encouraging numbers, we have no breathing room to settle and we won’t.”

On a lighter note, Feuerstein commented that his experience and that of other 747-8 pilots has been that “once they fly the Dash 8, they don’t ever want to fly the 400 again, as great a ’plane as that is.” He drew laughs when he said he was given a Capt Mark Feuerstein bobble head doll which sits on the flightdeck, and if “the head doesn’t bob, then we’re having a smooth flight.” One of his favorite features, unique to the 747-8, is the flight crew rest quarters and lavatory behind the secured flightdeck door. This ensures there will be no more of the infamous ‘cart blocking’ of the cockpit door on the 747-8.

The big question on everyone’s mind is “What is the niche for the 747-8?” Bucholz said that in the Lufthansa fleet the type sits between the A380 and A340-600, with the Boeing airplane to be deployed on high-premium, limited-economy demand markets such as Washington (Dulles), Chicago, Los Angeles, Bangalore, and Delhi. San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Singapore would later be considered.

Business class seats on Lufthansa's Boeing 747-8.

Business class seats on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8.

Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinentals have about the same number of premium seats as on the airline’s A380 fleet: eight first class and 80 business, compared to eight and 98 on the Airbus double-decker. However, in LH service the A380 has considerably more economy seats: 420 versus 298 on the Dash 8.

This was a dual rollout for Lufthansa. Not only was the airline debuting the 747-8 Intercontinental but also a revamped business class cabin that will eventually be adopted by the entire long-haul fleet. Clearly, business is where Lufthansa sees the future of premium cabins, with first class being reduced and premium economy space static.

The economy class section on Lufthansa's Boeing 747-8.

The economy class section on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8.

At the ceremony we were led out to the aircraft along a red carpet. Reaching the top of the stairs and entering the cabin we discovered a novel feature: the flight attendant’s seat at the nº 2 entry door between the two business cabins on the lower deck was arranged like a hotel’s concierge desk. The 747-8 features a slightly curved, third-generation staircase to the upper deck, in contrast to the 747-400’s straight-up-and-down version.

There is a third business class cabin upstairs, with 32 seats. At the push of a button, the B/E Aerospacedesigned seat converts to a full-flat, horizontal 6ft 6in (1.98m)-long sleeping surface. Ergonomically improved cushioning ensures a high degree of comfort in a sitting or horizontal position, and adjustable armrests provide more space in the shoulder area when lying down.

Another feature is the innovative seating arrangement in the form of a ‘V’, whereby two neighboring seats are angled toward one another along a central axis. This solution enables Lufthansa to fulfill one of the main wishes expressed by customers: to sit or lie facing the direction of travel while enjoying practically twice the distance between two neighboring seats at shoulder level. This also affords greater privacy and more personal space.

Briefly sampling the seat, I found it cleverly designed, comfortable, and more spacious than before. In fact, the materials used here are more understated than in previous business cabins.

The staircase on the Boeing 747-8.

The staircase on the Boeing 747-8.

There are 15 toilets onboard; one of the business class lavs I saw boasted a ‘loo-with-a-view’ window. First impressions of this cabin reminded me that indeed ‘Business is the new First’.

Claiming that the quietest part of the 747-8 is on the lower deck, in contrast to the A380 Lufthansa has located first class downstairs This exclusive cabin in a 1-2-1 layout typifies Lufthansa’s current elegant product.

There is a buffet at the front and center, and the eight seats have plasma monitors and individual closets.

Unlike airlines such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines with their enclosed suites, Lufthansa has opted for a more open environment. The airline specified extra insulation for soundproofing, while the corrugated Junkers-inspired window shades are a nice touch exclusive to Lufthansa.

Overall, this intimate cabin gives the feel and ambiance of an executive jet. Beyond the lower-deck business cabins, the two economy sections are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration with the airline’s relatively new—and comfortable—Recaro seats with 31in (79cm) pitch. These are the same as those on the A380, with cup holders built into the rear of each.

Inspection over, and with time running short and Lufthansa’s reputation for punctuality to be upheld, we were ushered off to lunch and the handover ceremony.

The Frontier of Flight’s floor-to-ceiling hangar door-size windows provided a dramatic backdrop to the guest of honor on the ramp, the 747-8 registered D-ABYA.

Press conferences of this nature are usually scripted, staid affairs, but CEO Spohr provided a welcome change by being candid, amusing, and refreshing. He compared the relationship between Boeing and Lufthansa to that of a German car buyer and a dealer, saying in essence: “German car buyers can be nasty, impatient, and tough…sound familiar? But as we take our car home, or in this case the 747-8 Intercontinental, we do so with great pride and become your best brand ambassadors. Other airlines will realize it’s a mistake not to order this ’plane.”

Spohr provoked more laughter when he remarked that as an ex-Airbus pilot, this was the first time he was both holding a Boeing key and had something between his legs in the cockpit. The latter slightly off-color remark was a reference to the side-stick controller of current Airbus models and Boeing’s traditional control yoke.

As he signed the ceremonial transfer documents, Spohr remarked: “This is a very expensive signature but there’s no time right now for further negotiations; but on second thought, let’s talk about the 747-9.”

Pat Shanahan, Boeing VP of commercial airplanes, had his own good-natured response: “When Nico [Bucholz] comes to town we recoil. We hide. We go on vacation. But seriously, we appreciate his directness which, without him, the 747-8 wouldn’t be as great a ’plane as it is today”.

Shanahan spoke in German as a courtesy to his guests, who were clearly pleased, and the crowd obliged when he asked them to applaud if his high school German was still up to the task. As a memento of the historic event, Boeing presented a huge banner of the 747-8 autographed by the thousands who had participated in the design and construction of the aircraft.

The biggest surprise of the day was the appearance of the legendary ‘Father of the 747’, Joe Sutter, who remains involved with the 747-8. Elizabeth Lund related how Sutter told the Boeing team during contractual negotiations: “You all are making this thing too damn complicated. Are you all going to sign these things or what? Just sign the damn thing!”

Finally, the panoramic doors opened to allow the crowd onto the tarmac for a brief ribbon-cutting act, after which Lufthansa presented the Boeing executives with commemorative suitcases in that iconic corrugated aluminum finish.

Without further ado, approximately 35 Lufthansa crew and executives boarded D-ABYA for the 9hr 19min delivery flight, designated DLH748, to Frankfurt. An on-time departure became very important as a flyover at Hamburg’s Lufthansa Technik and a roll-in event was planned.

At 1425PST, the 747-8 began a brief taxi to the threshold of Paine Field’s Runway 16R/34L, where it made a very quiet takeoff roll. In fact, the hoots, hollers, and applause of those gathered on the roof drowned out the droning GEnX-2B turbofans. In less than 4,000ft (1,220m) the first 747-8 Intercontinental delivered to an airline climbed away into overcast Pacific Northwest skies. In what could be construed as a positive omen, the sun peeked out as the behemoth rotated skyward.

Then the 747-8 rocked its wings in a farewell salute to its birthplace and headed for a rôle as ‘The New Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century’.

Editor’s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Friday evening, 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!


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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!


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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!


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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!


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Contact the editor at

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The Airbus A380 By The Numbers

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 20, 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 will take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Yesterday we wrote about the history of the A380. Today, we take a look at the key numbers for the A380, via Airbus.

The A380 at the 2014 Farnborough Air Show. Image Courtesy of Airbus

The A380 at the 2014 Farnborough Air Show. Image Courtesy of Airbus

List price: $414 million


Total orders: 318


Total deliveries: 152

EXTRA: The Airbus A380: A History

Qatar Airways' first Airbus A380. Image Courtesy of Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways’ first Airbus A380. Image Courtesy of Qatar Airways

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of Its First A380

Number of airlines that have taken delivery: 13


Top A380 operator: Emirates, 55

An Emirates A380 in New York. Image Courtesy of Jason Rabinowitz

An Emirates A380 in New York. Image Courtesy of Jason Rabinowitz

EXTRA: Emirates Takes Delivery Of Its 50th A380

Aircraft in operation: 152

Cost to develop the aircraft: $25 billion *

Aircraft range: 15,700 km (9,320 miles)

Weight saved because of composites: 15 tons

Wing span: 79.75 meters (87.21 yards)

A test being performed on the A380 wing. Image Courtesy of Airbus

A test being performed on the A380 wing. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Overall length: 72.72 meters (79.52 yards)

Height: 24.09 meters (26.34 yards)

Number of passengers carried since launch: 75 million

Number of routes served: 94

A map illustrating where the A380 flies. Image Courtesy of Airbus

A map illustrating where the A380 flies. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Number of destinations served: 44


Most aircraft delivered: 30, in 2012


Capacity: 525 in three-class configuration

Lufthansa business class on the A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Lufthansa business class on the A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Airbus 2014 Global Forecast for future Very Large Jets: 1,230


Value of VLJ deliveries in the Airbus Forecast: $400 billion


* Figure according to the New York Times


Our celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the A380 rollout continues on Wednesday, when Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara looks at the long-term prospects for the jumbo jet. Thursday will feature a flashback to Editor-in-Chief Chris Sloan’s October 2007 trip on Singapore Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight. And we’ll end the week 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 editor at

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

The Airbus A380: A History

By Jay Haapala / Published January 19, 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 will take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Today, we take a look at the history of the A380.

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

On January 18, 2005, aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus unveiled its newest aircraft: the double-decker jumbo jet A380. The A380 eventually found its way from the design table to the production line to flying for the airlines.

AirwaysNews went back to see what those past 10 years were like. This is the story of an aircraft that was immense in not only its physical size, but the immense impact it had on an industry, the passenger experience and the term jumbo jet.

The Beginning

In 1991, Airbus conducted market demand research on a wide-bodied, double-decker aircraft. Two years later, in 1993, Boeing canceled a similar project.  On May 1, 1996, Airbus created its Large Aircraft Division. That division was sanctioned to develop plans for the Airbus A3XX, which was charged with giving the manufacturer domination in the large commercial jet market, with its planned capacity of around 600 passengers.

A sales and marketing brochure for the A3XX. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A sales and marketing brochure for the A3XX. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

In the initial design process, the manufacturer discussed the possibilities for airlines with the jumbo jet, including bars, restaurants, duty-free shopping and even a bowling alley, according to press reports at the time.

The bar onboard an Emirates A380. Image Courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

The bar onboard an Emirates A380. Image Courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

Although a risk for Airbus, plans for the A3XX continued to develop in January 1998 when Noël Forgeard took over as President and CEO. Airbus was in good financial state with 460 firm orders and 13 new customers in 1997, and plans to build the A3XX were under way.

Mindful of potential customers, Airbus consulted 20 leading airlines about what they would want in a new double-decker jumbo jet.  Airbus originally said that the A380 could carry 853 passengers in an all-economy configuration. But the manufacturer’s typical layout is 525 seats in a three-class configuration. For example, launch customer Singapore Airlines has 12 closed first class suites, 60 lie-flat business class seats and 399 economy seats in one configuration of its A380.

Airbus Integration

Using his experience as a former advisor to French President Jacques Chirac, Forgeard came to Airbus with the idea of integrating Airbus with other aviation companies.

A sales brochure for the A380 from 2003. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A sales brochure for the A380 from 2003. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

In 1998 Aerospatiale was privatized and merged with Matra. This lead to meetings of the Airbus partners to discuss further integration. Eventually, the European Aeronautical Defense and Space Company (EADS) would join in the Airbus venture. The U.K.’s BAE Systems would own 20 percent of the restructured Airbus, while EADS would own 80 percent.

The new Airbus company commenced operations in July 2000. On December 19, 2000, the A380, previously known as the A3XX, was launched commercially. The jumbo jet, dubbed “The Flagship of the 21st Century,” launched with 50 firm orders and 42 options from six major operators, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, Qatar Airways and Korean Air.

An A380 on Airbus's final assembly line in Toulouse, France. Image Courtesy of Airbus

An A380 on Airbus’s final assembly line in Toulouse, France. Image Courtesy of Airbus

The project was officially under way to develop and build an aircraft capable of carrying 525 passengers in a three-class configuration. Component manufacturing for the jumbo jet begins in 2002.

In 2004, a year before its first flight, the first A380 engine, from the Engine Alliance GP7000, was delivered to Airbus. The engine is comprised of technology from both the General Electric GE90 and the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. Airlines also had the option of choosing the Rolls-Royce Trent 900. Following a year of development, tests, and regulatory approval, the day finally came.

First Flight and Deliveries

On April 27, 2005, at 10:29 a.m. local, the first Airbus A380 — F-WWOW, – lined up on the runway in Toulouse, France. A crowd of around 30,000 watched as 308 tons of aircraft went hurtling down the runway and took off. Following a maiden flight over the Pyrenees Mountains, the A380 made a low pass over the very airfield it took off from four hours earlier. The jumbo jet landed to a crowd, cheering and applauding, at approximately 2:22 p.m. local time.

In June 2005, Airbus announced that the A380 delivery date to Singapore Airlines would slip by six months, blaming complex wiring in the jumbo jet.  Between July 2006 and October 2006, Airbus announced another four-month delay in the delivery of the A380 after discovering manufacturing teams in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany, using incompatible design software.  And there was an issue when the A380′s electrical harnesses were delivered to be fitted, many of them didn’t connect with the forward and aft fuselage sections, according to the Economist.

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Finally on October 15, 2007, Singapore Airlines took delivery of the first Airbus A380-800. The aircraft, MSN-003, entered service on October 25, 2007, flying between Singapore and Sydney.


A Singapore Airlines first class suite aboard an A380. Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Two months later Singapore Airlines CEO Chew Choon Seng said the aircraft was performing better than the airline and Airbus expected. The A380 was burning 20 percent less fuel than its competitor, the Boeing 747-400.

After Singapore’s began flying the A380, other airlines also took delivery of the aircraft. In August 2008, Emirates began service between New York’s JFK Airport and Dubai. Qantas inaugurated A380 service between Melbourne and Los Angeles in October 2008. Air France joined the A380 operators club in October 2009 and Lufthansa followed in May 2010. The 100th A380 was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on March 14, 2013.

Delivery of Qantas' first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Delivery of Qantas’ first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

But it hasn’t been all smooth air for the A380. On November 4, 2010, Qantas Flight 32 suffered an engine failure of its number two Rolls-Royce Trent 900. Following the incident, cracks were discovered in fittings located inside of the wings. This resulted in an Airworthiness Directive that affected 20 A380s.

Airbus responded by compensating those airlines operating the first 68 A380s for the repair costs and revenue lost during the aircraft’s grounding. The issue can be traced back to stress in the material used for fittings. Airbus switched to a different type of material, thus eliminating the problem in future aircraft delivered.

Love at First Flight

The crack situation didn’t ruin the A380’s popularity with carriers and passengers. In 2014, Etihad Airways underwent a rebranding campaign that included the delivery of its first A380, which features the Residence Suite (as reported on exclusively in AirwaysNews). As of December 31, 2014, Emirates has ordered 140 A380s and has taken delivery of 57. Singapore has 24 orders, one option and 19 deliveries. Qantas has 20 orders, with 14 deliveries and four options.

EXTRA EXCLUSIVE: Etihad’s A380 “The Residence,” Reviewed By First Passenger


Through the A380 marketing campaign “Love at First Flight,” Airbus continues to build on its established relationship with not only the airlines that operate their aircraft, but also the passengers that enjoy their aircraft.


While the Airbus A380 may not replace the Boeing 747 as the Queen of the Skies, the A380 still remains an engineering and aviation marvel. In the 10 years since its rollout, the Airbus A380 continues to amaze, outperform, captivate, and give true meaning to its slogan: “Love at First Flight.”

Click here for an interactive timeline of the Airbus A380.

On Tuesday, Co-editor Benét J. Wilson takes a look at the Airbus A380, by the numbers. On Wednesday Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara looks at the long-term prospects for the jumbo jet. Thursday will feature a flashback to Editor-in-Chief Chris Sloan’s 2007 trip on Singapore Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight. And we’ll end the week on Friday, with a Flashback Friday feature from Contributor Luis Linares on the A380.

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

Extra: Airbus A380 Sales and Marketing Brochures

Extra: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Original Sales and Marketing Brochures

Cover photo courtesy of Airbus

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Delta To Start West Coast 717 Operations In June

By Jack Harty / Published January 16, 2015


Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

Per Delta Air Lines’ electronic desktop timetable update, Delta will begin Boeing 717 west coast operations this summer.

In June, Delta will operate three daily round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Portland (PDX) and four daily flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with the 717.

In other news, Salt Lake City will get its first Boeing 717 flights in June as well. Delta will operate one daily round trip flight between Salt Lake City and Kansas City as well one daily roundtrip flight between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

The new 717 flights should be loaded into the flight schedule and reservation system sometime over the weekend.

Delta originally planned to start flying the 717 on the west coast in June 2014 when it launched flights between Austin and Los Angeles on June 5, 2014. However, the airline downgraded the new flight to an E175 due to delivery delays.

Now that AirTran has retired, the rest of its former 717s can now be converted and start flying for Delta this year.

EXTRA: Delta Inaugurates Boeing 717 Flights Between Atlanta and Newark


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Scoot Sees First Boeing 787 Take to the Sky

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published January 12, 2015

Scoot 787 JDL-1SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: Singapore-based budget airline Scoot came one step closer to receiving its first Dreamliner on Monday, when its first airplane took to the skies over Boeing’s widebody factory here.

The airplane is the first of 20 jets the carrier has on order, split between 10 of the stretched -9 version and 10 of the original -8. The airline will receive the larger -9 aircraft first.

Delivery is expected sometime in February, following several months of delays. Scoot anticipates rolling the airplanes out to regional destinations in the first quarter of the new year, likely to both Perth and Hong Kong.

Passengers will find a two-class configuration inside, seating 375. Business, dubbed ScootBiz, will have 35 seats in a 2-3-2 arrangement. Economy will feature 340 slim-line seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.

The Dreamliners will join an already existing fleet of six Boeing 777s.

A subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, Scoot was founded in 2011 with a goal of competing more effectively against a fast-growing budget carrier climate in the Southeast Asia region. Its small fleet and limited route map has garnered it only a modest presence, particularly against giants such as AirAsiaX.

Its soon-to-be expanding fleet will likely see it attempting to increase its footprint in the region, though the carrier has yet to say where that might be.

Scoot 787 JDL-2

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What the A350 Means to Qatar Airways’ Fleet Planning

By Seth Miller / Published January 9, 2015

DOHA, Qatar – At the end of December 2014 Qatar Airways took delivery of the first Airbus A350 XWB, the newest aircraft design to enter service and likely the last clean-sheet wide-body aircraft to be developed for at least a decade. It is a milestone in the commercial aviation market to be sure. It is also, however, arguably a tipping point for Qatar Airways in terms of fleet planning and aircraft deployment.


The current Qatar Airways fleet is diverse, to say the least. The company notes proudly that it is the only airline to have operated every type offered by Airbus. The A300 and A310 are no longer in the fleet, but the A320 family is well represented as is the A330. The A340 and A380 are smaller players in the operation but they are present, to say noting of the Boeing 777 also flying under the Qatari flag.

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

Getting to the current fleet configuration appears to be more the result of choosing destinations and then aircraft to serve them, rather than focusing on a simple, limited fleet. As the A350 deliveries begin, however, it seems that the airline is changing that plan. It will now take in large numbers of a much smaller variety of aircraft types, simplifying operations while also increasing the size of the fleet and the range of cities which can be reached from its hub in Doha.

EXTRA: A Look at Airbus’ A350 XWB Final Assembly Line

Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, spoke to this point during the A350 introduction press conference in Doha. He noted that the carrier is pursuing an aggressive schedule of aircraft replacement while also acknowledging that some diversity in the fleet remains necessary, “Each aircraft has a specific mission that it fits best in…. During eight years we will already be replacing airplanes, including the 787. We have a fleet rollover program to always have the latest aircraft…. We always keep moving forward.”


Currently the Boeing 777 is the most represented passenger aircraft in the company’s fleet, with just under 40 flying. In the coming decade 80 A350s will be delivered. Even with the aggressive fleet rollover program, this represents both a significant expansion of the fleet in terms of total number of aircraft while also a reduction in aircraft diversity.

EXTRA: In-Flight Review: Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight to Doha

Limiting the number of aircraft types in the fleet should result in a more streamlined operation for the carrier, so long as it can still serve all the markets it wants to reach. And the range of the A350 will allow for such a simplification, something which the A380 or the 777 fleet does not currently allow for.

As for deploying the A350s, the initial plan includes a mix of cities, large and small. Al Baker indicated that the A350 is going to both replace the A330s in his fleet as well as up-gauge service in many current 787 destinations, “We will deploy them to New York. We will deploy them to the secondary cities in Europe where at the moment we are operating the 787s. And, of course, to the sub-continent and Far East. Because, of course, this aircraft will be replacing our A330s.”

The 787s will either be replaced, as noted earlier, or redeployed to serve Africa and other secondary cities, even as the current collection of secondary cities sees larger aircraft as well.

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

Does this spell the end for narrow-body aircraft at the company? Probably not. There are still a number of destinations which will continue to see service from the A320 family and Al Baker indicated that, either due to limited demand or because of limited capacity allowances based on bilateral agreements, the smaller types will continue to have a place in the company’s operation and the 80 outstanding orders, mostly for the A320neo family, should keep the narrow-body operation running for some time.

As for the Boeing 777X order outstanding, it would appear based on Al Baker’s comments that these, too, will be part of a fleet renewal program just as much as they will be for expansion. The company clearly intends to grow the number of seats in markets where that is viable; putting A350s where A330s used to be will make that happen quite quickly. Similarly the 777X can up-gauge existing 777 routes and help to keep the fleet fresh going forward.

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American Airlines’ First Boeing 787 Takes Flight


By Brandon Farris / Published January 6, 2015

EVERETT, Washington — American Airlines’ first Boeing 787-8 took to the skies today and was on hand to capture these images of the aircraft’s maiden voyage.

“Boeing 817 to Boeing Everett, aircraft airworthy,” was heard by the pilots on-board the aircraft shortly after take off on one of Boeing’s test flight frequencies as the plane began its B-1 test sortie over Washington State as BOE-817 according to Flight Aware.

Initially American was expecting this aircraft by the end of 2014, but delays with delivery of the airline’s all-new business class seats designed by Zodiac Aerospace pushed back the arrival to the Dallas based company to the first quarter of 2015.

Initial routes will include flights to Chicago, Los Angeles from Dallas/Fort Worth. It is expected that the aircraft will make its international debut in the second quarter of 2015, but the airline still has not revealed what routes the 787 will be seen on. Some speculation is that it could eventually go onto Los Angeles-Tokyo-Haneda if it is awarded, as the 787 is the perfect airplane for that kind of route.

American has been quoted as saying that it will roll out an entire new seat concept that is designed specifically for the carriers 787s. American placed its order in October 2008 for 42 firm and 58 options, with the original expected arrival of October 2012.

EXTRA: American Airlines’ 787 Makes First Appearance

While no official configurations have been confirmed by American yet, it has been suggested that the aircraft will feature 28 business class seats, 48 main cabin extra and 150 economy seats.

It was expected that the first 787 going to American was going to be the -9 version; however that was later changed to the -8 that seen here today. Last reported by The All Things 787 Blog, American has 16 787-8s and 26 787-9s on order.

When delivered American will become the second 787 carrier in the U.S. to fly the type and fourth in North America behind United Airlines, Aeromexico and Air Canada.


See the FlightAware tracking map of the first flight here.


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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: First Flight of the 767-2C Prototype Refueling Transport Aircraft

By AirwaysNews Staff / Published December 30, 2014 contributor Brandon Farris had the chance to attend the first flight of the Boeing 767-2C prototype of the military refueling freighter. The aircraft, based on the Boeing 767, will be used by the U.S. Air Force for aerial refueling and strategic transport. 

The plane took off from Paine Field, Washington, at 9:29 a.m. (PST) and landed three hours and 32 minutes later at Boeing Field. The aircraft will receive its military systems following certification.

The aircraft was built to replace the military’s venerable KC-135 Stratoliners, a variant of the Boeing 707. The jets first went into service back in 1957, and have been used by the U.S. Air Force, along with the French, Chilean and Turkish air forces.

The battle for the multimillion dollar contract was epic, with Boeing competing first against partners Northrup Grumman/European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company in 2007. But after complaints by Boeing over the request for proposal process, the Air Force resubmitted its requirements and Boeing won the contract in 2011.

Under the contract, Boeing is building four test aircraft – two 767-2Cs and two KC-46A Tankers. The 767-2Cs enter flight test as commercial freighters prior to receiving their aerial refueling systems, while the KC-46s will fly as fully equipped tankers through the FAA and military certification process. Boeing is on contract to deliver the first 18 of 179 KC-46 aircraft to the Air Force by 2017. Below is our slideshow of the event.

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AirTran Flies Final Flight: Onboard the Last Flights

By Benjamin Bearup, Chris Sloan, and Jack Harty  / Published December 29, 2014

ATLANTA, GA – After retracing the same route that ValuJet inaugurated service on in 1993, the final AirTran Airways flight blocked in at Tampa International Airport at 11:39 PM ET Sunday night. The completion of AirTran flight 1 signified the successful completion of integrating AirTran into Southwest as well as the end of the iconic AirTran brand.

The Origins of AirTran

AirTran dates back to 1993 when ValuJet commenced operations. It’s inaugural flight took place on October 26, 1993 between Atlanta and Tampa via Jacksonville. To commemorate the final AirTran flight, Southwest planned to retrace the inaugural route, but AirTran opted to fly directly to Tampa.valujet9409cover_23614

Initially, very few took ValuJet seriously; it had a cartoon character “Critter” painted on the fuselage of the old DC-9s it acquired from Delta, and its orange and yellow all coach seats were not really appealing. Plus, ValuJet decided to compete with Delta – who had dominated the Atlanta market since 1941 – in Atlanta.

EXTRA: A History of Air Tran


A AirTran 717 pushes back from the gate in Atlanta on December 28, 2014. Photo by Jack Harty / AirwaysNews

ValuJet would win over the hearts of many, but it hit a major bump in 1996 when ValuJet flight 592 caught fire while departing Miami and crashed into the Everglades. Unfortunately, the crash killed all 110 people on-board. Weeks before the crash, the FAA launched an investigation to look into why ValuJet had more than 114 emergency landings in 17 months; after the crash, the FAA grounded the airline for four months, citing safety concerns.


A AirTran 717 taxing to the gate in Baltimore. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

ValuJet was in the middle of a PR crisis, even after it made sure to promote that safety was its number one priority. About a year later, ValuJet announced that it would acquire AirTran Corporation which was the holding company of Mesaba (one of the former Northwest Airlink operators) and new owner of Conquest Sun Airlines. ValuJet also announced that it would change its name to AirTran Airways, and it would go through a restructuring to turn the airline around. The inaugural AirTran flight was once again Atlanta to Tampa.

EXTRA: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

EXTRA: AirTran Douglas DC-9-30 Cabin, Cockpit, and Flight Decks during Scrapping

Over the next few years, AirTran won the hearts of many, particularly in Atlanta. It introduced the first 717 as well as a Business Class product to for business travelers. It also became the first U.S. airline to have an entire fleet of aircraft equipped with GoGo in-flight WiFi and XM Radio.

EXTRA: Inside AirTran’s 717s

Meanwhile, the airline continued to grow; it ordered more than 100 737-700s to reach new destinations further west and built hubs in Baltimore and Milwaukee.

The Southwest Merger


Photo by JDL Multimedia

About four years ago, Southwest Airlines announced plans to buy AirTran Airways. One year later, it became official. AirTran would be merged into Southwest. About eight months after the marriage became official, Southwest received its single operating certificate in record time.

When the merger plans were announced in 2010, nobody was really sure this would work. AirTran and Southwest were different in many ways; AirTran offered two class service, operated with a hub/spoke system, and operated two aircraft types, but Southwest offered one class service, operated more point to point, and had a single aircraft type.

During the farewell ceremony in Atlanta, Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, recapped what the AirTran merger did for Southwest. He remarked that “Everybody knows that it helped us finish out our domestic route network expansion and gave us access to key cities and airports such as Atlanta and Washington Reagan. It also helped us boost our position in key markets like Milwaukee, Orlando, and Baltimore. But, without a doubt, the most important thing that the AirTran merger has done for Southwest Airlines is the addition of you – the AirTran people.”atlanta-hartsfield-jackson-international-airport-aerials-of-concourses-c-d-2009_12073

In May, Southwest Airlines announced that it would phase out all AirTran flying by the end of the year (which was the goal since day one of the merger process). December 28 would be the final day of AirTran operations.

The Final Day of Operations

AirTran Airways operated close to 90 flights on December 28 to more than a dozen destinations. Although 90 is far from its peak of 750 daily flights, many tried to catch one final AirTran flight to say goodbye one more time.B59wgTJIIAAIIyq

Senior correspondent, Jack Harty, spent a few hours sitting at some of the AirTran gates on Sunday. Overall, there was not a lot of fanfare until the last AirTran flight; although, some stopped to take pictures when an AirTran aircraft taxied by, and many employees also took photos as they finished working their final AirTran flights which caused several passengers to question what was going on.

The Farewell Begins in Milwaukee

Early Sunday morning, we flew up to Milwaukee to start the AirTran farewell tour. This part of the celebration provided an up close look at Southwest’s growth in Milwaukee since integrating AirTran’s operations.


AirTran and Southwest employees in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

When entering the C concourse in MKE that morning, it became obvious that Southwest and former AirTran employees truly love the company they work for and the history it has with the city. The love and passion for the company could be felt when they described what it meant to see the four years of hard work that went into merging the two carriers be finally completed. Although some were sad, most saw this day as the next step in Southwest’s history, and one that would make the carrier more “simple” and “easier to manage”.


AirTran 717 Sign in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

AirTran named Milwaukee a hub in April 2010. At the time, Milwaukee would be AirTran’s third hub city, after Atlanta and Orlando. AirTran quickly grew to serve over twenty destinations with over 60 daily flights. When the airline was purchased by Southwest in 2010, it became clear that big changes were coming to Milwaukee.


AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Over the course of four years, Southwest took over and preserved most of the routes formerly served by AirTran. “AirTran Airways laid a really solid foundation for Southwest to grow upon in Milwaukee,” said Dan Landson, a Southwest Airlines Spokesperson. “The brand was iconic in the city and region and we’re really looking forward to moving forward as one brand with one Customer Experience, and most importantly to be the airline of choice for Milwaukee travelers.”

As the final flight out of Milwaukee approached, the gate the flight would leave from began to receive a special makeover featuring that featured a banner and dozens of balloons. Employees were also sporting their best AirTran attire from the late 90s to the mid 2000s.


An empty 717 cabin during the AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Around the same time, a special aircraft arrived; it was a former AirTran 737-700 that had recently been reconfigured and repainted in the new Southwest Heart Livery. It seemed like a symbolic “changing of the guard” in the former AirTran hub.

Several minutes later, N717JL-an AirTran 717-arrived from Atlanta. This would be our ride to Atlanta to continue the farewell celebration, but before we departed, a pre-depature party was held with two large cakes, pizza, drinks, and historic AirTran memorabilia. After a fun but short 20 minute celebration, the aircraft was ready for boarding. Several longtime and devoted AirTran employees and several members of the media were onboard the flight to Atlanta.


AirTran farewell cake in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

As the flight prepared for departure, dozens of Southwest and AirTran employees waved farewell from the ramp as the plane pushed back. After a short taxi, Airtran flight 351 was off to Atlanta, and a piece of Milwaukee and AirTran’s aviation history came to a close.

After completing most of the uneventful two hour flight, the flight attendants acknowledged the significance of the flight and asked for all passengers to participate in a group photo that eventually became a large selfie at 34,000 feet. AirTran souvenirs were passed out and before we knew it, we were on final into Atlanta. Shortly before landing the captain of N717JL thanked the passengers for their loyalty after all these years. Upon landing and arriving at our gate we were given forewarning that we would be welcomed by a large party to celebrate the final flight for AirTran Airways.


The Final Flight: AirTran 1 ATL-TPA

Pre-Departure Party

About an hour before flight 351 was set to arrive from Milwaukee, the party started at gate C3 in Atlanta. There were balloons, a DJ, and a lot of dancing at the gate. Just off the boarding area, a cake in the shape of a AirTran aircraft took center stage. 500-600 AirTran and Southwest employees sharing memories and a lot of laughs in what turned into a very lively party, the kind of which Southwest was famous for. The theme for the event was “One Family. One Love” commemorating the intergration finally coming to fruition.

A little more than an hour before boarding, a few executives made some remarks.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly mostly spoke on what it meant to see the integration be finally complete and that he was happy to have the AirTran folks part of Southwest. Comparing this event to a commencement, Kelly remarked “It’s the end of something that was great, but now, it’s the start of something even better. This is a testimony to the soul of the people of AirTran.”

Bob Jordan, Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, was also present at the event and on the final flight. As President, AirTran Airways since the merger began he played a significant roll in the integration. Jordan took over when Bob Fornaro stepped down as CEO of AirTran, when Southwest officially purchased AirTran in 2011. During his speech, he went over some key dates of the merger and expressed how happy he was to see the two airlines come together. His remarks were warmly received by the crowds “we didn’t want this to be like any other airline merger. We wanted this to be special and just like Southwest treats its employees.” He emphasized that “this was a party”. Any outstanding differences between the Southwest and AirTran teams, weren’t on show tonight. 

Then, he announced that he was going to stray away from his script. Jordan took a moment to recognize Fornaro for his leadership and passing on the torch. Fornaro, who was present at the event and on the final flight, received a big round of applause and several cheers. Many AirTran employees were very happy to see him again, mobbing him with requests for selfies. Next, Jordan expressed that “Tonight is bittersweet for AirTran employees, but many new things will come as a result of this merger. We know that you all truly loved your company and built something special. Now we are one family.”

To conclude the gate events in Atlanta, Kelly and Jordan signed a commemorative certificate signifying the final AirTran flight.


Boarding was a bit chaotic. Boarding began as soon as the remarks were over, and since there were more than 800 listed on standby for the flight, the gate area was absolutely mobbed which caused some confusion on where boarding was taking place. The 1980s it song “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds accompanied the boarding.

Kelly took the tickets for the final flight, and champagne was served to celebrate the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one. A 717 model was passed around to have the final AirTran passengers sign it, and at each seat, there was some fun AirTran memorabilia for every passenger.

The captain of the final flight was AirTran’s Director of flight operations – Floy Ponder – who has 19 years of experience. One of his favorite memories was the 2010 ice storm in Atlanta that shut down the airport. The first officer would be Janin Hutcheson who has been with the company since ValuJet and helped recruit many captains at AirTran. Like the remaining 717 flight crews, they are going on to training on the Southwest 737 fleet.

After our initial article ran, Helen Souders emailed us a fun fact about a special jumpseater in the cockpit on AirTran flight 1:

One man was there for it all, my father, Captain John E. Souders. He was in the cockpit last night. He is a decorated Marine aviator, Vietnam veteran (fighter pilot), retired Eastern Airlines Captain, and the first pilot ValuJet hired. He flew the inaugural flight in 1993. He served as their Chief Pilot and VP of Flight Operations. He stayed on after age 65 as a Check Airman with AirTran. He turned 71 two weeks ago. It is fitting that he ends his career as the Captain they chose to be on their first flight and their last! We are so proud of him and I believe this t human story ties it all together as AirTran says goodbye and a great man retires from the skies.

EXTRA: Five memorable AirTran commercials


After boarding was complete, a large gathering of employees and a few members of the media took place on the ramp. Many employees posed for pictures one final time before the aircraft departed for Tampa.

While standing on the ramp, emotions were high as more than a hundred Southwest and AirTran employees posed for pictures and waved farewell to the AirTran 717 that once ruled concourses C and D in Atlanta.

As large groups employees took pictures with N717JL, firetrucks lined up to give Citrus one final wash before heading off to Tampa, and as the aircraft pushed back, everybody quickly followed N717JL toward the end of the gate to watch the salute it rightly deserved. AirTran 1 made an on-time departure.

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

The Final Flight 1 to Tampa

At 10:30 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 began its quick 35 second took off roll to thunderous applause.

Once in-flight, the party continued with a lot of socializing and enjoying the AirTran service one last time. With 117 passengers on board consisting of current and former staff, it was a full house. With many having flown in from around the system to be on the last flight. Owing to the demand, a number of staffers actually purchased their seats just as they went on sale months ago. The three Flight attendants, cloaked in AirTran sashes, managed to pull off two services inflight even as the partying passengers crowded the aisle. They had a little help from others fellow employees to complete the service on this very short flight. Cocktails were on the house and there was even a champagne service onboard, not something normally seen on a AirTran or Southwest flight. During approach into Tampa, there was a quick toast to AirTran.

During final descent, the captain said “I can’t say see you on another AirTran flight but hopefully on another Southwest flight.” When the fasten seatbelt sign came on, passengers chanted for a go around, but unfortunately, they did not get their wish. It being near midnight, few would have seen it.

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights


At 11:36 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 touched down in Tampa to a roar of applause. Three minutes later, it blocked into the gate. Unlike most flights, no one wanted to deplane.

Upon exiting the aircraft, there was a large party going on in the terminal – with “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” playing in the background. If anything this party, sponsored by the Tampa Airport Authority was even more lively then Atlanta with even more dancing and a DJ. Many AirTran employees drove to Tampa to celebrate and say farewell to AirTran. It was very emotional as there were lots of hugs and some tears, but many are excited for the bright future ahead. Citrus and the Critter may be gone, but they are anything but forgotten.

Extra: AirTran & ValueJet Timetables and Route Maps

Extra: A History of Air Tran

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Extra: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

Listen to AirTran final flight 1 ATC departure from ATL and final arrival in TPA


Disclosure: Southwest Airlines provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover the final AirTran flights.  Our opinions remain our own.

Benjamin Bearup contributed to this story from the final Milwaukee/Atlanta flight. Chris Sloan contributed to this story from the final AirTran Airways flight, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Atlanta as well as the introduction and history.

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Meet Etihad’s First Residence Passenger

By Jack Harty / Published December 24, 2014


Photo courtesy of Airbus

In three days, Etihad Airways will fly its inaugural Airbus A380 flight between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow. It’s a flight for Etihad’s history books as it signifies the introduction of many brand new products that are all focused on improving the travel experience.

When announcing its seating plans for the A380, Etihad created a lot of buzz around the travel industry as the A380 would offer a very unique and exclusive product. Meet The Residence by Etihad™; it is a three-room private cabin that has a Living Room, a Double Bedroom, an Ensuite Shower Room, and its own on-call butler.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Unveils New Uniforms, First 787, and First A380


Mr. Bertuccio on-board the inaugural A380 flight.

Earlier this week, Etihad revealed the identity of the person who purchased the very first Residence ticket on the inaugural flight to London this Saturday.

Meet Miami-based businessman and aviation enthusiast Mr. Gino Bertuccio. He will be the first person ever to experience the world’s only private multi-room cabin on a commercial passenger aircraft.

Mr. Bertuccio who runs Ligi Import Corp said: “I have followed Etihad Airways and I have always admired the products the airline has launched. There are going to be many firsts on this inaugural flight – new amenities, services and other innovations to try. I am excited to experience them all, though I am particularly fascinated by the butler concept.”


Sloan and Bertuccio on-board ANA’s Inaugural 787 flight

It’s clear that Mr. Bertuccio is truly passionate about aviation and is a connoisseur with a strong expertise in air travel; he has traveled on 22 inaugural and final flights, since his first inaugural flight 25 years ago, and he is an avid collector of airline memorabilia and model airplanes (with nearly 2000 in his collection). He also has albums filled with boarding passes, certificates and photos from past flights.

On the inaugural Airbus A380 flight in October 2007, AirwaysNews’ Editor and Chief, Chris Sloan, had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bertuccio where he learned about the “First to Fly Club.” It’s a small group of people who have made it their goal to fly on the first scheduled flight of significant airline services. Sloan and Bertuccio also had the opportunity to meet during the ANA 787 inaugural flight.

EXTRA: Mr. Bertuccio’s Trip Report From Qatar’s Inaugural A380 Flight

For Mr. Bertuccio, he likes to chase all of the A380 inaugurals as a member of the “First to Fly Club.” In a video interview that Etihad put together, Mr. Bertuccio explained that “being on inaugurals for an aviation enthusiast is about being part of the aviation history; it’s like a new adventure.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, said: “We are delighted to welcome Mr. Bertuccio on board The Residence by Etihad. On December 27, he will become part of aviation history as the first member of an elite group of Etihad Airways guests to enjoy the world’s most luxurious and exclusive hospitality and service experience in the air.”

“For the first time in my flying experience, I really don’t know what to expect but I do know that flying in the Residence by Etihad will be a truly unique adventure, the top of luxury. I have huge expectations. My only wish is that the flight was longer,” said Mr. Bertuccio.


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The Airways Cruise 2016