Category Archives: Inaugurals and First Flights

Qatar Airways to Take Delivery of First A350 Tomorrow

By AirwaysNews Staff  / Published December 21, 2014

Qatar Airways is set to take delivery of the first Airbus A350 XWB tomorrow in Toulouse, France. We are excited to be able to provide live coverage on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll also have a full story on the events that happen as the day progresses.10865792_663611287091286_3544246639658595703_o

*All times below are local to Toulouse, France.

From 10-10:45 AM, Airbus will hold a A350 XWB Briefing. After, we’ll bring coverage live from a press conference and provide photos of the first aircraft prior to the delivery ceremony. (Approximately 4:00 AM EST).

At 12:00 PM local, we’ll bring live coverage from the delivery ceremony when the first A350 is hanged over to its launch customer. Approximately an hour and a half later, Airbus will take media on-board a quick flight over France. (Approximately, 6:00 AM ET)

Later in the day, we’ll provide a behind the scenes look at the Airbus A350 Final Assembly Line.

Be sure to follow live coverage on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, enjoy some of our previous coverage of other A350 XWB program milestones:

EXTRA: See our Airbus A350 timeline from the beginning

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 XWB: Being There At The Maiden Flight

EXTRA: Full Airbus A350 Maiden Flight and Airbus Delivery Center Gallery

Also, this video is a must see as five A350 XWB aircraft fly in formation.

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Contact: jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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Miami: We Have 100 Air Carriers

By Jack Harty / Published December 20, 2014

With the arrival of the first Frontier Airlines flight from Denver during the wee hours of Saturday morning, Miami International Airport became the only U.S. airport to offer passenger and cargo service on 100 different carriers.1779900_809012789154918_6720998159333686652_n

Last week, two airlines launched new flights to Miami. On Tuesday, Finnair launched seasonal flights between Helsinki, Finland and Miami on Tuesday, making it the airport’s 99th carrier, and today, Frontier Airlines became the 100th carrier as it launches flights from Miami to Chicago O’Hare, Denver, LaGuardia, Philadelphia, and Washington Dulles.

EXTRA: Frontier to Serve Miami International Airport

With the additions of Finnair and Frontier, Miami International Airport’s roster of air carriers will be comprised of:

  • 53 scheduled passenger carriers;

  • 26 scheduled all-cargo carriers;

  • 8 charter passenger carriers; and,

  • 13 charter all-cargo carriers

“Adding our 100th air carrier – and being the only U.S. airport to offer so many passenger and cargo options – is a great way to cap off another fantastic year of progress at MIA,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González. “Our 100-strong airline list is every bit as diverse as the community that we’re so proud to serve and support. More importantly, these carriers help drive our local economy and keep our community connected to the world.”

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@AirwaysNews.com.

 

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Etihad Airways Showcases First 787 and A380 Abu Dhabi

By Jack Harty / Published December 18, 2014

This story will be updated later today with cabin pictures from the event.

Earlier today, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, opened up its first Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 to the media in Abu Dhabi,Etihad - A380 marking the first time the carrier showcased the aircraft’s cabin.

The event was also a celebration of a busy and successful year. Etihad Airways continued to expand its reach; took delivery of its first A380 and 787; introduced new cabin interiors; unveiled the new ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ livery; and introduced new uniforms.

Earlier this year, Etihad revealed its initial interior and route plans for the A380 and 787, but the A380 stole the show as it will have the only three-room suite in the sky known as the Residence by Etihad™.

James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “As we have done so many times in our short history, we are reshaping the landscape of modern air travel in our own way.” Additionally, he went on to say that “today is the culmination of many years of hard work and tremendous endeavor by hundreds of people both in our airline and outside.” He also went on to say that “with the launch of these aircraft, we usher in a new era of unparalleled luxury, comfort and service. These innovations represent our vision for the future.”

Etihad’s A380

Etihad has ordered 10 Airbus A380s. It received its first one earlier this year; it will receive one later this year, four in 2015, three in 2016, and two in 2017. The airline will fly its inaugural A380 flight on December 27, 2014 between Abu Dhabi and London. In May, the carrier also said that it hopes to eventually fly the A380 to New York JFK and Sydney.

EXTRA: Etihad Unveils New Livery on First A380

The A380 will have a capacity for 498 passengers in three seating classes, and the carrier will offer one of the most unique A380 experiences: the ultra-luxurious Residence by Etihad™.

There will be two VIP suites (which can accommodate up to twp passengers in each cabin) in The Residence located at the front of the upper deck. The suites are a 125 square foot, three room, private cabin for the VIPS. It comes with a butler, a lounge room, large 32 inch LCD TV, two dining tables, a double bed, and a private shower (can only be used for a four minute shower). Plus, The Residence will cater to the individual tastes of every VIP traveler.

The Residence

Etihad Airways will also offer First Apartments. They will have an area of 39 square feet equipped with a 30.3 inch reclining lounge chair, a separate ottoman which converts into an 80.5 inch long and 26 inch wide fully flat bed, a chilled mini-bar, a vanity with mirrors for make-up and stocked with luxury branded amenities, and a personal wardrobe.

The A380 will have 70 Business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. They have been newly designed for the A380 and 787. They allow customers to work, play and rest. They boast a 22 inch wide seat and separate ottoman which form a lie-flat bed up to 80.5 inches long together, a sturdy 16″ x 18″ dining table, and a full height screen between the seats for privacy.

The A380 will have 416 economy seats. The seats are known as Economy Smart Seats which boast a ‘fixed wing’ headrest, a 19 inch wide seat, a 32 inch seat pitch, a 6 inch recline, in-seat entertainment, and a pillow and blanket.

Boeing 787-9

Etihad-7879-JDL-2

Photo by JDL Multimedia

Etihad Airways will begin daily Boeing 787-9 service between Abu Dhabi and Dusseldorf from February 7. Later on, the carrier plans to launch 787 flights to Mumbai and Washington Dulles.

EXTRA: Etihad Unveils First Boeing 787

The first five Boeing 787s will carry 235 passengers in three classes (8 First, 28 Business, and 199 Economy). The airline will also fly a 787 configured in a two class cabin. The two-class 787s will not have First Class suites; instead, they will boast a larger Business Class cabin.

Etihad’s eight Boeing 787 First Class suites will be in a 1-2-1 configuration. They offer a chilled mini-bar, complete privacy, a 26 inch wide lounge chair that converts to a comfortable 80.5-inch long fully-flat bed, an in-seat massage, a 23″ x 20″ dining table, and a personal wardrobe.

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The 28 Business class seats (“Business Studios”) will be in a 1-2-1 configuration. They have been newly designed for the A380 and 787. They allow customers to work, play and rest. They boast a 22 inch wide seat and separate ottoman which form a lie-flat bed up to 80.5 inches long together, a sturdy 16″ x 18″ dining table, and a full height screen between the seats for privacy.

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The 787 will have 199 Economy Smart Seats which boast a ‘fixed wing’ headrest, a 17.2 inch wide seat, a 31-33 inch seat pitch, a 6 inch recline, in-seat entertainment, and a pillow and blanket.

The airlines popular Flying Nanny service will also be offered to passengers on long-haul flights. Plus, the airline will have prayer areas which can be curtained off.

Uniforms:

At the A380 and 787 cabin unveiling event, Etihad also held a fashion show to unveil its new cabin crew uniforms which incorporate the same colors used for the cabin interior and new aircraft livery. The new uniforms mark the first major uniform re-launch since the airline’s formation in 2003.

The new uniforms were created by Italian Haute Couturier Ettore Bilotta Etihad - Fashion - 2at his atelier in Milan. In a press release, the airlines says “the new uniform exudes a classic elegance seldom seen in the aisles of modern airliners, and cleverly merges dramatic elements of old world haute couture from 1960s Paris and Rome, with the more contemporary fashions evident on the runways of London, New York, Milan and Tokyo.”

Ettore Bilotta said: “Since the launch of Etihad in 2003, I have come to know the airline, its teams and management, very intimately, and have developed a style which has evolved as the airline has grown. For me it has essentially been about dressing a brand and an ethos.”

Peter Baumgartner, Chief Commercial Officer of Etihad Airways said: “Ettore, working with our teams, has once again delivered a new uniform which will showcase our brand with characteristic flair at every city on our ever-growing network. Baumgartner went on to say: “The world has been paying very close attention to us this year and our new collection will not disappoint. It is the embodiment of the Etihad Airways brand, service ethos and unshakeable commitment to excellence, marking our arrival as a leader of sophisticated flying.”

“This is not just a uniform. This is pret-a-porter concept – a future lifestyle statement and homage to the golden age of glamorous flight. It is about bringing back classic elegance, allure and richness to our men and women in a style which will become their signature look. No matter where you are in the world, you will know this is Etihad,” Aubrey Tiedt, Vice President Guest Services at Etihad Airways said.

The new uniforms are made from 100% Italian wool while featuring an intricate jacquard design and were made in various locations across Italy, with additional manufacturing taking place in Shanghai, Tunis and Bucharest by a dedicated team which totalled approximately 400 staff.

In a press release, the carrier explains some of its color choices and uniforms:

  • A warm chocolate brown has been chosen as the base color for the different uniform variations, with a deep purple accent color for cabin crew and lounge teams, and a burnt orange accent colour for ground crews and Special Services teams. Bilotta has also taken the unusual step of breaking up the main primary shades by introducing all the secondary colours as accents on blouses and accessories.

  • Female cabin crew, ground and lounge teams will wear a skirt suit, Etihad - Fashion - 5accessorized with fitted gloves, belt, hat and scarf. Hats worn by the crew are now more aerodynamic and ‘retro’, inspired by the iconic stars of the Hollywood Silver Screen and the sweeping formations of the Emirati desert sand dunes. The new style is classic and enduring, reminiscent of the much-admired designer collections of airline crews in the heyday of international air travel.

  • Male cabin crew will wear a three-piece suit, while male ground Etihad - Fashion - 3crew will wear a two-piece suit. Accessories will also include belts and gloves. Male lounge agents will wear new Food & Beverage uniforms in line with those worn by the onboard Food & Beverage Managers. A classic trench coat adds a sense of catwalk drama to all the variations of the uniform and can be worn in all types of weather. The light-weight coat is versatile and foldable, reducing cost and allowing easy carriage.

  • All gloves, scarves and neckties feature intricate geometric patterns Etihad - Fashion - 6and fretwork. The same level of detail is also evident on matching accessories such as new slim-line handbags, which have been made to the dimensions of a tablet device.

  • For Etihad Airways’ acclaimed Butlers, the airline has combined historic British butler attire with new world design to reflect Etihad Airways’ modern and globally recognised style. The fabric colours used for this uniform are warm brown for the long-tailed jackets and ties, ivory for the trousers and waistcoats and white for the shirt and gloves. The tones used reflect some of the subtle colours evident in The Residence by Etihad, and also the airline’s new ‘Facets of Abu Dhabi’ corporate livery.

The new uniforms will be introduced system-wide from December 27.

Following today’s events in Abu Dhabi, the A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft will continue test operations before starting commercial flights. 

This story will be updated later today with cabin pictures from the event.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@AirwaysNews.com.

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Etihad Kicks Off Service to DFW

By Austin Speaker / Published December 17, 2014

Artists offered henna body art applications in front of a distinctively Middle Eastern backdrop

Etihad Airways launched service to its sixth US destination–Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas,– from Abu Dhabi on December 3.  The flight currently operates three times weekly (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) using a 777-200LR, and it will begin daily service in April 2015.  Arriving passengers will have the advantage of US Customs Pre-clearance, bypassing customs at DFW and allowing their baggage to be checked through to their final destination.

In order to kick off the new service, Etihad hosted a launch party at the Hall of State at Fair Park—a building which celebrates Texas’s history and culture.  Models of the first and business class seats on various aircraft types were on hand to allow guests to experience the onboard product. Most of the models were for the two newest aircraft types—the A380 and 787—neither of which will be used to serve DFW.  Notably absent was the model of The Residence—the only three-room suite in the sky.  Catering featured many of the products available onboard, and music featured Italian trio Il Volo.

The First Apartment aboard Emirates' A380 fleet

The First Apartment aboard Emirates’ A380 fleet

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Reveals its A380 and 787 Routes and Interiors

President and CEO James Hogan was on hand to offer Texans a resounding “Howdy,” Italian trio Il Volo performed at the launch eventand His Excellency Abdulla Alsaboosi, the UAE’s Consul General for Los Angeles, spoke about the vital economic connections between Texas and the UAE, particularly for the energy and tourism industries.  Alsaboosi even highlighted the service being offered by Etihad’s biggest competitor, Dubai-based Emirates.

DFW has received a great deal of attention from the Middle East Big 3 carriers this year.  Qatar Airways The Hall of State was filled with guests from Etihad, American Airlines, and a variety of other partnersbegan daily service to Doha in July using a 777-200LR, and Emirates upgraded their daily flight from a 777-200 to an A380 in October.  Abu Dhabi is DFW’s 18th new international destination of 2014.

EXTRA: Emirates to Fly the A380 to DFW

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Contact the author at austin.speaker@airwaysnews.com

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UPDATED: Qatar to Take Delivery of First A350 XWB December 22

By Benét J. Wilson / Published December 12th, 2014

The first Airbus A350 XWB will be delivered to launch customer Qatar Airways on Monday, December 22nd in Toulouse. This news comes after it was announced that the first A350 XWB delivery was delayed, but earlier this week, Didier Evrard, head of the manufacturer’s A350 program, was optimistic at an investor day forum in London as he explained that the first delivery was still expected delivery to occur before the end of 2014.

The Airbus A350 during a proving run flight. Image courtesy of Airbus

The Airbus A350 during a proving run flight. Image courtesy of Airbus

Evrard admitted that the manufacturer may have been a “little optimistic” with its plans to allow only 10 days between transferring the first A350 from the production line to the delivery center in Toulouse, France. He also said that the manufacturer has done some testing, and will do at least three more flights to ensure that Qatar Airways will be satisfied.

At the same event on December 11, Airbus Group Chief Executive Tom Enders pointedly noted that “the aircraft is on the tarmac, ready to be delivered.” Evrard said three flight tests had been done and expected to “do two or three more” to ensure that Qatar Airways will be satisfied with its first A350.

The aircraft was originally scheduled to be handed over to Qatar Airways at a ceremony in Toulouse on December 13, with a larger media event in Doha on December 15. AirwaysNews is among the media outlets that will be at the event on December 22.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Southwest Files With DOT For Initial Houston International Service

By Jack Harty / Published December 11, 2014

Southwest-737-800-New-Livery-Ian-Petchenik

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 (“Heart Two” / N8645A) in the new livery: Image Credit – Ian Petchenik / Airways News

Today, Houstonians are getting their first look at where Southwest plans to fly to from its new international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport.

The carrier filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to serve six international cities in Latin America from Houston Hobby Airport. It hopes to receive approval from the government to fly from Houston to four destinations in Mexico–Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos– San Jose, Costa Rica, and Belize City, Belize (Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport). The airline hopes to launch these new flights when the new facilities open in Fall 2015.

Currently, the airline is in the middle of completing a five-gate international concourse and a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility at Hobby. Additionally, it is also developing a new parking facility, central utility plant, and making roadway improvements around the airport. In total, the project is estimated at $156 million.

Southwest and the City of Houston teamed up to complete this project about two years ago, and once its complete, the city and the airline estimate that it will add 10,000 jobs to the region and provide a $1.6 billion impact annually to the local economy. Plus, it’s also estimated that the new facility will bring an additional 1.6 million air travelers each year. 

“We’re building our first-ever international terminal project to give Houstonians, visitors to Houston, and our connecting Customers exceptional value and legendary Customer Service in international markets for which there is great demand,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines Chairman, President, and CEO.  “Service to Mexico will be the cornerstone of our international operation at Hobby and the four cities we are announcing today provide exciting travel and business options for consumers.  Adding Belize to the Southwest network and growing our Costa Rica service continues our expansion to international destinations where our People and consumer-friendly policies can deliver as no other airline can.”

On March 7, Southwest will launch its first international flights out of Houston to Aruba with Saturday only service. Even though the new FIS facility and new international concourse are not due to be completed for another year, CBP Pre-clearance procedures help make international service out of Houston Hobby possible.

There is a small wrinkle in starting these new routes. Currently, the government only allows two designated U.S. carriers to fly between Houston and Mexico City and three designated U.S. carriers between Houston and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos. Currently, United and its regional affiliate–Expressjet–are the only two carriers that are allowed to fly to Mexico City from Houston making this route a United monopoly. As far as the flights to Cabo are concerned, United, Skywest (United’s regional affiliate), and Spirit are the only three carriers allowed to fly these routes. So, the question remains when and/or if Southwest will be able to start these routes with all of the designated carrier spots being taken. It may come down to United determining if it will go all mainline or regional on these routes.

Luckily, an Open Skies Agreement will start January 1, 2016 which would allow multiple U.S. operators to operate flights between these cities as well as other benefits.

Currently, Southwest has taken over all of AirTran’s former international operations, and the carrier has big expansion plans. Subject to government approvals, Southwest service to San Jose, Costa Rica (from Baltimore/Washington), begins in March 2015; service to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (from Orange County/Santa Ana), begins in June 2015; and service to Belize City begins in October 2015 (from Houston (Hobby)). As of now, it currently flies several international flights everyday including to cities in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico.

EXTRA: Southwest Airlines Has Left The Country

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Contact the author at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Azul Airlines Launches Service to North America

By Cody Diamond / Published December 3rd, 2014

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A celebration of Azul’s first flight into the U.S. Images courtesy of Cody Diamond

Azul Brazilian Airlines launched service December 2 between the United States and North America. Flight 8704, an Airbus A330-200 named America Azul, landed at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL) just before 5:00 a.m. local time.

Azul, founded by founder and former JetBlue CEO David Neeleman in 2008, serves more cities within Brazil than any other Brazilian airline and has carried more than 100 million passengers since its first flight nearly six years ago. The carrier will have 10 weekly departures from FLL, serving Sao Paulo/Campinas (VCP), departing VCP at 11:27pm local time. Azul will also be launching service from Sao/Paulo Campinas to Orlando on December 15, with service to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) beginning in 2015.

EXTRA: A320neo Aircraft Order Will Fuel Azul’s Brazil Expansion

The A330s are configured for 273 seats, with 24 in business class and 249 seats in economy class.

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“It’s with great happiness and deep pride in the accomplishments of our 10,000 crewmembers, that we bring Azul to Fort Lauderdale as our very first international city served,” said Neeleman.

EXTRA: Azul Orders Widebody Jets, to Fly to US in 2015

Azul currently operates a fleet of ATR-42/72’s, Embraer 175/190/195’s, and long-haul A330-200s. It flies 146 aircraft ,with three A330’s currently flying and another four on order for delivery through January 2015. Azul will also begin flying the Airbus A350-900 in 2017, with a total of five on order. It also has 63 A320neos on order.

photo 3

Azul has more than 850 daily departures and is poised for substantial growth in the coming years. The Brazilian carrier is planning an initial public offering shortly, both in Brazil and in New York. In 2014, Skytrax named it the best low-cost carrier for the fourth consecutive year. It has the best on-time performance of any Latin American carrier according to FlightStats.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Miami Welcomes Air France Airbus A380

By Luis Linares / Published December 2nd, 2014 / Photos by author

Air France A380 Miami Cake

Commemorative cake for inaugural Air France Airbus A380 service to Miami

Miami International Airport (MIA) welcomed the first Air France flight operated with an Airbus A380 “Superjumbo” from Paris-Charles de Gaulle International Airport (CDG) on December 1.  Airport and airline officials, as well as representatives from the French Consulate in Miami, were present for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the return flight to Paris.  The A380 replaces a Boeing 777-300ER and will operate the Miami-Paris route for the remainder of the winter schedule through March 28, 2015.

EXTRA: Trip Report: Riding The Whale on an Air France Airbus A380 Paris CDG-New York JFK

The first Air France flight operated by an A380 arrived to a  water canon salute at MIA, as various media members, airport staff and airline employees watched at the ramp.  The giant, but quiet aircraft pulled into gate J17 around 6:00 p.m. local time.  Currently, this gate is the only one at MIA capable of handling the A380, which means Air France shares it with Lufthansa, the only other A380 operator at MIA.  The Lufthansa flight departs one hour before the Air France arrival.

Air France A380 MIA arrival 1 Air France A380 MIA arrival 2 Air France A380 MIA arrival 3 Air France A380 MIA arrival 4Water cannon salute and gate arrival

EXTRA: Chef Joël Robuchon Renews Air France Partnership to Serve La Première Passengers

After the passengers deboarded, MIA Air France KLM station manager Jose Lannefranque gave us a quick tour of the cabin.  This gave us an opportunity to get pictures of the cockpit and the four classes — f first, business, premium economy and economy.  We only had five minutes, since TSA needed to perform a security inspection, but it was still enough time to get a few good shots.

The first class seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration on the main deck; business has a 2-2-2 arrangement on the upper deck; premium economy is also on the upper deck and has a 2-3-2 arrangement; and economy consists of a 3-4-3 arrangement in the main deck and 2-4-2 on the upper deck.

Air France configured its A380s with nine first class, 80 business, 38 premium economy, and 389 economy seats, for a maximum of 516 passengers.  This is a 133-seat increase from the 383-passenger Boeing 777-300ER (42 business, 24 premium economy, and 317 economy) that operated the Paris-Miami route.

Air France Airbus A380 - Flightdeck 1 Air France A380 First Class Air France A380 Business Class Air France A380 Economy Class Lower DeckFlight deck, first class, business class and lower deck economy class

We then proceeded to the gate area for a ribbon- and cake-cutting ceremony prior to boarding passengers for the return flight to Paris.  Ken Pyatt, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Country Aviation Department, delivered the opening remarks to commemorate the occasion. France’s Deputy Consul General in Miami, Karine Aumont, touted the improved passenger experience offered by the A380, including a more spacious and quieter cabin, ambient mood lighting, and the luxurious La Première first class cabin.  Finally, the invited guests participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and were offered the commemorative cake.

Air France Airbus A380 Miami - Ken Pyatt Remarks Air France Airbus A380 Miami - Karine Aumont Remarks
Deputy Director of the Miami-Dade Country Aviation Department, Ken Pyatt and France’s Deputy Consul General in Miami, Karine Aumont, delivering their remarks

From December 1 to March 28, Air France will operate up to seven weekly A380 flights between Miami and Paris. Between January 5, 2015, and February 1, 2015, and from March 9, 2015, to March 28, 2015, the flight will operate six days a week.

Air France A380 Miami ribbon-cutting Air France A380 Miami cake-cutting
Ribbon and cake-cutting before boarding

The A380 Paris-Miami service consists of these daily frequencies:

AF090: leaves CDG at 13:50, arrives at MIA at 18:05
AF099: leaves MIA at 20:55, arrives at CDG at 11:20 the next day

Air France A380 Premium Economy Air France A380 Economy Class Upper Deck
Premium economy and economy sections in upper deck

Air France is the second airline to introduce A380 service to MIA after Lufthansa, which introduced it on June 10, 2011.

Air France A380 - Seat Map

Air France Airbus A380 seat map at boarding gate

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Contact the author at luis.linares@airchive.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Flying KLM’s MD-11 Farewell Flight

By Ben Wang / Published November 15, 2014

KLM has a long history with Douglas. IMG_8703 copyThe strong relationship between the two companies formed 80 years ago when KLM flew its first DC-2 in 1934. KLM is the only airline to operate every Douglas model beginning with the DC-2, capping off the exhaustive list with McDonnell Douglas’ ultimate widebody, the MD-11.

KLM received its first of ten MD-11s in July of 1993. Unfortunately, the elegant trijet with its distinctive winglets was not a commercial success. Only 200 aircraft were built between 1990 and 2001.  Performance issues during initial entry into service, exasperated by late entry to market, followed by competitors introducing more fuel-efficient twin-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, sealed the MD-11′s fate.

The MD-11 did find its niche, however with cargo carriers such as FedEx, UPS and Lufthansa Cargo, which received the last MD-11 built. KLM stuck through and kept their reliable MDs in service until the bitter end thus becoming the last airline flying the passenger model.

Setting the Stage

When KLM announced that 2014 would be the last year of service for the MD-11, I had a great interest in flying on the last flight. It was well known via the reservation system that the last scheduled flight was on October 25 from Montreal to Amsterdam.  However, rumors of a final commemorative flight persisted.

On Sep 15th, KLM announced via social media that they would sell seats on three “farewell flights”, appropriately on November 11th, appropriately priced at 111 Euros. Flights would be one-hour sightseeing trips around Holland. Knowing the Dutch, ever mindful of their place in aviation history, would give an appropriate send off for such a historic occasion, I did not hesitate on getting a ticket on the farewell flight.  Since those flights would be the last flights where you can actually buy a ticket, I considered them to be the more historically significant “last” flight to take.

Tickets went on sale at 1:11 pm Central European Time onMD11 farewell flight EUR111 Sept 17th.  After setting my alarm for 2 am Pacific Time on the early morning of Sept 17th, I managed to secure one ticket on a flight. Demand was overwhelming. 592 tickets were sold out in mere minutes.  During the sale, KLM’s site was slow to respond (I later heard it almost went down) and I was only able to confirm that I got a seat because my credit card was charged. KLM later send out confirmation emails indicating which of the three flights you would be randomly assigned to; I got the second of the three. In addition, seats would be randomly assigned as well.

Preflight

A beautiful sunrise on Nov 11th hinted a glorious day ahead. IMG_8709 copyAt Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I checked in at a special check in counter that KLM had set aside for the Farewell Flights.

I arrived well ahead of the designated 11 am arrival for my 1:00 pm departure.  The first flight has already boarded so the counter was quiet, save a few of us that got there early. At check in, I received my assigned seat 25C. I also received a MD-11 booklet and a sheet noting the “house rules” for the flight.

I tried to switch to a window seat, however, the request was denied. The agent noted that the seats were previously assigned at random. Since it was a sightseeing enthusiast flight, everyone would want a window anyway, so they could not take seat requests.

The house rules described the procedures for the flight. IMG_8701 copyWe would be taken by bus to a remote stand where another MD-11 and a DC-3 would be on display. Boarding would be via stairs according to the color code on the boarding pass. Orange would board via the forward stairs and green would board via the rear.

The sheet noted that plenty of time and opportunity would be allowed on the ramp for photo ops. Wow – an airline that actually caters to the enthusiasts – I was impressed!

I went up to the Panoramic Terrace above the terminal trying to spot the first flight. The fog had rolled in and the weather had changed drastically. It was cold, windy, and misty. After awaiting o the Terrace in the bitter cold along with hundreds of other spectators, I came up empty. I decided to instead head to my gate, C22.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Inside the gate area, there was an aura of excitement.  Stacks of goodie bags with “I Fly MD-11″ on one side and “I Flew MD-11″ on the other awaited us at the boarding door. Unfortunately, announcements were made in Dutch only – frustrating many (myself included).

Finally, well past the pre-described boarding time of 12 pm, the the orange group consisting of Business Class and forward cabin passengers boarded the first set of buses. I boarded a few minutes later with the green group.

On board the bus, after staring at the goodie bags for the past 45 minutes or so, everyone was eagerly wanting to know what was in the bag. It consisted of sandwich squares on a stick, bottled water, a KLM lanyard, a small bottle of gummy bears (with the MD-11 logo), two KLM barf bags, and most important piece, a MD-11 safety card in clean and pristine condition.

We pulled into the special sectioned off area located next to the cargo ramp. There, MD-11 “Maria Montessori”, registered PH-KCB, and Dutch Dakota Associations’ DC-3 “Princess Amalia”, registered PH-PBA, were on display.  The star of our show “Florence Nightingale”, registered PH-KCD, was already receiving her passengers. Both -KCB and -KCD had special decals applied on them: “KLM – Douglas Aviation History” along the fuselage top and a listing of all Douglas aircraft flown along the fuselage bottom (which is all of them), concluding with a large MD-11 logo.  By now, the fog had retreated and sun had come back out. As we boarded the aircraft, everyone stopped to take photos and of course, the obligatory selfie.

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

At the door, two flight attendants greeted the excited passengers aboard. Inside, the all-familiar KLM blue dominated. All the seats had the new MD-11 book “The Last KLM McDonnell Douglas Farewell” as well as special MD-11 headrest covers.

It was nice that buses loaded each group in waves. Because this allowed for time to take photos on board before departure. The cabin crew were enthusiastically asking whether anyone wanted their photos taken (“yes please!”).

My seat-mate joked, “I wonder which movie I am going to watch?”.  I actually was hoping the IFE would be in operations so I can see the flight map, but it was dark for the entire flight.

 

Legroom.  Really can’t say much about it.  I was not in my seat all that long!IMG_8743 copy

Welcome messages were given over the PA, initially mostly in Dutch,but later rectified. One of the pilots who authored the MD-11 book would narrate the flight.

As flight attendants gave their safety briefing, it was clear that they were having fun too.  At one point, our steward remarked it was funny cameras were on him recording his safety brief, which brought laugher and more lens pointed his way.

The Flight

KL 9897, Amsterdam (AMS) – Amsterdam (AMS)

Aircraft:  McDonnell Douglas MD-11

Registration:  PH-KCD “Florence Nightingale”

msn/ln:  48558/573

Delivered:  Sept, 1994

Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Actual Departure – Arrival:  12:57 pm – 2:19 pm

Takeoff Runway 18L:  1:10 pm

Landing Runway 18R:  2:06 pm

Flightaware flight track

We pushed back from the stand four minutes ahead of the scheduled 1 pm departure. We were photographed from a hydraulic lift; it was the first of many photographers during our taxi. The funniest was vans chasing our plane trying to get ahead of us for photos.

Someone pointed out the center overhead bins were rocking and flexing as bumped around on the taxiway.  Since we also sat over the main center gear strut, we could also hear the brakes squeal.  Someone joked, those brakes are probably the first thing they are going to retire.

After taxing past the large crowd atop of the Terrace, we took position on Runway 18L.  It was announced that we would be using 90% power for takeoff (helpful translation courtesy from our seat mate).

Even though we had a full load of passengers, our aircraft was without cargo and baggage in the belly.  As a result, the takeoff was quite a rush.  We quickly accelerated as the whiny roar of the General Electric engines came to power.  Laughter and “woahs” can be heard around the cabin as we made a roller coaster style rotation some 35 seconds later.  We then made a very sharp right turn to the west.  It was clear that the pilots wanted everyone to have a memorable flight.

Only a couple minutes later, we leveled off at about 2000 feet and the seat belt sign went off.  Everyone at first thought it was in error and chuckled.  But after some hesitation, wow, it was real!  So people started moving about, trying to get views of the landscape below from available windows and touring the cabin.

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

People soon occupied every available floor space.  The cabin crew attempted to start service with beverage carts, but the fans made their job difficult.  As people noticed that we were being served petite fours and small bottles of wine both adorned with the MD-11 logo, that was encouragement enough to sit everyone back down so the carts can move through.

I quickly ate my petit four (you may call it “small cake”) so I can continue 5D3_5959 copyto explore the cabin.  By not having a window seat, I really couldn’t take in the view while an excellent tour was being announced over the PA anyway.  The narration also gave us status of the flight itself.  We had to depart 2500 feet and climb to 3500 and ultimately 5000 feet due to air traffic control.  As we toured Holland, the aircraft made sharp turns making walking extremely difficult.  We all had to hang on tight as the aircraft maneuvered about.

Windows around rows 10 to 12 gave excellent views of the engine and winglet, making it a popular photo spot.

All the galleys were decked out in party mode.

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Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Purser’s station – which I have never seen nor did I realize existed.  It reminded me of the loadmaster’s station on the C-17.

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Airways magazine editor Enrique Perrella took a moment of solitude while reviewing the MD-11 book.

Do you play the KLM MD-11 Challenge trying to win tickets on the farewell flight?

KL had a contest where players had to correctly answer 11 very difficult questions about the MD-11 for a chance to win daily prizes and a ticket on the last MD-11 flight.

So did you think the questions were pretty technical and esoteric?  I certainly did.  I had to take notes!  Well, I met the person that designed the site and came up with the questions.  He and a pilot purposefully made the questions challenging but interesting because they knew the enthusiasts would know most of the answers already.

As we neared the conclusion of our one-hour flight, people broke out their permanent markers and left messages on the overhead bin.  There was a quite bit of enthusiasm as the precious few markers got passed around.

As we made our approach to Runway 18R, the excellent flight narration informed us of the direction and altitude of our landing.  Final approach speed would be at 155 knots.

The seat belt light became illuminated pretty late into the approach process.  After everyone finally made their way back to their seats, the back of the plane – obviously the rowdy section – tried multiple times to start the wave.  They were unsuccessful.  Then they started chanting “go around, go around, go round”.  Alas there was no go around.  Fifty-six minutes after takeoff, after a loop around Holland, we made a perfect landing on Runway 18R to the applause of everyone on board.  Over the PA, the purser thanked us for flying on the last MD-11 and hoped to see us on another KLM airplane in the future.

As we made the long taxi back to the ramp, once again, like our departure, our arrival was met by photographers and service vehicles.  At 2:19 pm, we were once again back at our remote stand alongside the DC-3 and the other MD-11 to the applause to everyone on board.

We were told to quickly disembark so the crew can prepare for the next flight.  Surprisingly enough, deplaning was quick and orderly, absent of the congestion experienced during the flight.  I asked a flight attendant for a cockpit visit so the pilots could sign items I had brought with me.  Unfortunately, the request was denied.  Given there was a large interest for the same from almost everyone on board, it would not have been possible to accommodate all requests.  Disappointed, I made my way to the stairs at the aft door, savoring my last moments with the last wide body passenger trijet in service.  And yes, I was among the last people to leave the ramp, boarding the last bus back to the terminal.

 

Final Farewell Flight

Here are views of the final MD-11 farewell flight (KL 9899) taken from the Panoramic Terrace.

PH-KCD lining up on Runway 24.

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One hour later, PH-KCD approached Runway 27, and then did a Kai Tak style bank while on short final and struck Runway 24 with heavy tire smoke one last time.

5D3_6158 copy

 

A fitting end.  Led by service vehicles, DC-3 PH-PBA and MD-11 PH-KCD performed a victory lap around the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

5D3_6161 copy

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Photos by the author.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Extra: TriJet Twilight – Inflight Review on One of the world’s last MD-11′s

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

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Special Flashback: United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner Inaugural, November 4, 2012

United's inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate.  All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

United’s inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate. All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

Editor’s note: today United Airlines celebrates two years of operating the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In those two years, the Dreamliner has been through its own trials and tribulations, including a grounding that lasted from January 16, 2013 to April 19, 2013. Below is an exercpt from a story that originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Airways magazine, covering the carrier’s first revenue flight.

At 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 4, 2012, the whisper-quiet ticketing hall of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal E did not offer any clues to anything special happening that morning. But it was the day for the first revenue service of United Airlines’ Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The event was covered by Editor Chris Sloan and AirwaysNews Social Media Correspondent Jack Harty.

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EXTRA: Via Airchive, UA 787 First Airline in the US

EXTRAUnited Hits One Year Of 787 Operations

EXTRA: Onboard United Airlines’ 787 Route Inaugural Flight from Denver to Tokyo

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After foregoing a major development event, there is concern that this launch might be devoid of much of the pomp and circumstance of other launch flights does little to dampen our enthusiasm for the inauguration of the first Boeing 787 to be operated by a U.S. carrier. We are being escorted through security by United PR executive Rahsaan Johnson, himself a fellow enthusiast who is as giddy with excitement as we are, as we only have 10 minutes onboard to jockey for photographs before the brief 6:25AM ribbon-cutting ceremony with Jeff Smisek, United’s President and CEO, and crew. Rounding the concourse to Gate E5, we are pleasantly surprised. The gate is already buzzing with activity, a large press contingent, festooned with party decorations, and generous buffet breakfast. A hip pop soundtrack wakes up the crowd. The message is clear: this isn’t no ordinary flight and after weeks of seemingly downplaying the event, United wasn’t going to let this historic moment passed unnoticed.  

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We quickly board the United’s Dreamliner for our 10 minutes of photo opportunities before we are required to exit the plane, even though we would re-boarding in just a few minutes. As we emerge, Smisek and the flight crew are already on a stage emblazoned with a “Proud to Fly the 787” backdrop to make a brief, 5 minutes of remarks welcoming everyone to this historic morning. Poignantly, he first offers his best wishes to all the people and United employees affected by Hurricane Sandy and his appreciation for all they did in the face of the challenges of the previous week.

Switching to an optimistic note, the CEO’s main theme is “The 787 is worth the wait and all of our guests and members of the press are about to find out why. If you want to be the world’s leading airline, you need to have the world’s leading airplane. We have that today in the new Boeing 787”. Beyond all the usual groundbreaking features of the 787 normally mentioned: efficiency, lower cabin altitude, larger electronically-tinted windows, dynamic LED transforming lighting, cleaner air, gust suppression technology to smooth the ride, the humidified cabin, the ultra-quiet flight experience; Smisek gets some laughs when he says that “you will all be very impressed with the lavatories”. Any frustration with the delays, schedule changes, or talk of compensation are not present on this morning. 

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EXTRA: Dreamliner Grounding Timeline

EXTRA: Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the hot seat again after Heathrow fire

EXTRAThe 787, One Year After Grounding

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United’s global business class on the 787.

Embarking the Dreamliner, my impressions of the cabin are positive. Though lacking the capacious stand-up bar entry way of other airline’s 787s, the entry through door L2 and the gallery and is still a major improvement over other aircraft, particularly with United’s blue LED boarding lighting program on display. I settled into my spacious lay-flat seat, 6A in United BusinessFirst. United wanted to leave nothing to chance to ensure an on-time departure at 7:20AM. At 7:12AM the doors were closed and 6 minutes later at 7:18AM we pushed back as the twin GE-nX engines began their almost imperceptible spool-up. Strangely, there was no water cannon salute scheduled on the departure but the custom produced Boeing 787 promotional and safety video received huge applause. With the clicks of cameras, cheers, and waves from the ground crew, we were on our way. As we taxied out to runway 9 I thought to myself what a long, strange trip it has been for United and Boeing to get to this historic moment. 

EXTRA: United 787 Re-inaugural on May 20th

EXTRAUnited Re-Inaugurates 787 Flights

EXTRAUnited Unveils its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Seat Map

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United’s first announced bookable 787 flight and new 787 exclusive route was the March 31, 2013 launch of Denver to Tokyo Narita, Japan. Today, November 4th marks the first significant operation of 787s in America by a North American carrier. United initially chose to go big: with a remarkable 8 flights scheduled on Day One involving 5 of United’s hubs: Houston Intercontinental, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These flights were to use United’s first 2 Dreamliners operating from the 787’s Houston base. United’s planned to temporarily rotate the 787-8 through all of its domestic hubs with domestic promotional and familiarization flights before the 787 begins its shift to international operations on December 4th.  

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The journey to this day has been over 8 years in the making.  United’s merger partner, Continental, was the first airline in America to placed an order for the Dreamliner shortly after the airliner was first offered to the market. Continental ordered 10 787-8s powered by the GEnx-1B. The Dreamliner would allow Continental to open up new long-range/thin routes such as Houston-Auckland, New Zealand (which was subsequently cancelled before launch) and Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, as well as replace the airline’s elderly 767s and eventually the 757-300s. Continental was so bullish on the plane that it ordered additional 787-8s over the next few years: In 2007, Continental ordered 5 of the larger and longer-range 787-9s, and converted an additional 12 787-8s to the 787-9 model.

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United itself ordered its first 787s in December, 2009 when the Chicago based carrier placed a firm order for 25 Dreamliners (also powered by the GEnx-1B) and 25 of the larger Airbus A350-900s with deliveries of these scheduled to start in 2016 and continue to 2019. The 787-8s and 9s are pegged as 757 and 767 replacements. The Airbus A350-900s are Boeing 747-400, and in some cases 777-200 replacements. The A350-900′s range is 11% greater than the existing 747s and older A market 777s.

EXTRAOnboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

EXTRAUnited Starts LAX-Melbourne with 787-9, Launches 3 New Pacific Routes

United's first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

United’s first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

This morning, Sunday November 2nd there are 4 flights operating the inaugural day: Our flight, 1116, is the first scheduled to depart early at 7:20AM with an arrival into Chicago’s O’Hare at 9:51AM. This plane is scheduled to turn-around and return back to Houston as flight 1510 after less than 2 hours on the ground in Chicago. As noted previously, originally there were 8 flights scheduled, but now just 4 remain today: Houston-Los Angeles-Houston (IAH-LAX-IAH). United hubs at San Francisco, Newark, Cleveland, Denver, and Washington Dulles were scheduled to join the 787 Hub Tour throughout the month depending on the timing of the 2nd 787 truly service ready. These domestic revenue and familiarization flights are scheduled to continue into early 2013.  

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All too soon, the seatbelt sign came on as we descended into Chicago ORD. Captain Starley turned the 787 auto-pilot off at 4,000 feet and at 9:36AM CST executed a perfect “grease job” of a landing onto ORD’s runway 10, to cheers and clapping. We quickly exited the runway and as we taxied the first words heard over the PA, were  “It’s A Dream Come True”, and yes you guessed it: there was more applause. What’s an inaugural flight without the obligatory Grand Finale: “The Water Cannon Salute”? These salutatory moments never get old as our 787 was given a bath from both sides of the jet.  At United’s Gate C20, I deplaned right behind Jeff Smisek to a throng of United employees, spectators, and press and they were all applauding! Surprisingly Smisek revealed that this was his first flight aboard the Dreamliner. His remarks said it all: “It’s just awesome! Just Awesome!”

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

After a short arrival ceremony, The 200 or so passengers and I boarded United flight 1510 for its on-time departure to Houston. This more subdued and conventional flight would be nearly devoid of all the ceremony of the inaugural flight. In fact, apart from being on the newest airliner of the 21st Century, it felt utterly normal. After all, there were 3 more flights left that day and no let up in line service over the coming weeks. The dream immediately became not just reality, but routine, and that was the point. 

See the complete photo gallery from the day’s events here.

United Airlines currently has 13 Dreamliners in its fleet: 11 787-8s and two 787-9s. The second 787-9 was just delivered last week. The carrier has another 52 Dreamliners on order for a total of 65.  The first 787-9 was just launched on the new Los Angeles-Melbourne route. Other routes are: San Francisco-Chengdu; Denver-Narita; Houston Intercontinental-Heathrow; Houston-Lagos; San Francisco-Kansai; Los Angeles-Narita; and Los Angeles-Shanghai.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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Virgin Atlantic to Launch First Dreamliner Flight on Boston-London Route

By Benét J. Wilson / Published October 28th, 2014

The first Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

The first Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Virgin Atlantic will launch its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight tonight at 11:10 p.m., from Boston Logan International Airport to London Heathrow, with six weekly flights. The carrier will continue to roll out the 787s on the East Coast of the United States before the type is placed on longer-haul routes.

To commemorate the delivery of the first 787, the carrier flew from London to Atlanta October 24 aboard Birthday Girl, named in honor of Virgin Atlantic’s 30th anniversary. Using the WiFi onboard, it also live-streamed the first DJ gig over the Atlantic by UK DJ groups Rudimental and Gorgon City.

EXTRA: Virgin Atlantic Welcomes the 787-9 in Atlanta

The 787's Upper Class cabin. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

The 787′s Upper Class cabin. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Following a first week of flying between London Heathrow and Boston, Virgin Atlantic’s 787 will operate several flights around the UK each day to complete its training schedule. “Redeploying aircraft from commercial fights to training and development flights is absolutely normal when bringing a new aircraft into service,” said a company spokeswoman. The route will be flown with an Airbus A340-600 during training, according to Business Traveller.

After the Boston launch, Virgin Atlantic will begin service to London on key East Coast markets including Washington, D.C., Newark and JFK, all within the next five months. Chief Executive Craig Kreeger said the 787-9 Dreamliner will represent more than half of the Virgin America fleet by 2018.

Images courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airways News 

RELATED STORIES

ANALYSIS: Virgin Atlantic Restructures Network to Focus On Delta Relationship

Analysis: DOT Approves Delta & Virgin Atlantic North Atlantic Joint Venture

Virgin Atlantic To Fly First 787-9 This October

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Virgin Atlantic Welcomes the 787-9 in Atlanta

Sir Richard Branson addresses the audience at the 787-9 Atlanta event. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bearup

Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787-9 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Brian Gore

Virgin Atlantic welcomed the state-of-the-art Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner into its fleet at an event in Atlanta that also commemorated the launch of the carrier’s new London Heathrow-Atlanta route. Founder Sir Richard Branson was on hand to welcome Virgin’s first 787-9 Birthday Girl to the fleet.

Birthday Girl is the first of 21 787-9 aircraft Virgin Atlantic will welcome to the fleet in the coming years. The addition of the 787-9 to the fleet comes at a time when many carriers, including Virgin Atlantic, are retiring older and less fuel-efficient aircraft such as the 747 and the Airbus A340, both which are currently in Virgin Atlantic’s fleet. CEO Craig Kreeger stated that the new 787-9 will be up to “27 percent more fuel efficient compared to the aircraft it will be replacing.”

The Upper Class bar. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

The Upper Class bar. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

The new 787-9 will seat 264 passengers (two less that Virgin Atlantic’s A330-300) in a 31 upper class, 35 premium economy, and 198 economy class configuration. When asked if the 787-9 will rotate schedules with the A330-300 similar to how Virgin Atlantic’s 747’s and A340-600’s do, Kreeger stated that “although unintentional, it is very likely that the 787-9 will operate on A330 routes and vice versa.”

Virgin also unveiled an updated Upper Class “Dream Suite” that gives customers more space and access to cutting-edge technology such as personal 24-inch touchscreen monitors at each seat. Virgin Atlantic will fit 31 Dream Suites seats in roughly the same space as 33 fit on the A330.

Onboard the 787-9, Virgin created a dedicated area to serve premium economy passengers called the Wonder Wall. Here passengers can get up and stretch their legs all while getting a drink or snack mid flight. Several other features include a walk-up bar as found on all Virgin Atlantic aircraft, satellite WiFi capable of connecting passengers even over large bodies of water, and ambient mood lighting that Virgin has become famous for.

Sir Richard Branson at the Atlanta event. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bearup

Sir Richard Branson at the Atlanta event. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bearup

During this event, Branson got his first taste of what the Dreamliner has to offer. A private tour was offered to him by Virgin Atlantic’s design staff shortly after the event. Branson, who was not able to participate in the inaugural flight due to a schedule conflict, toured the flight deck, all three classes and even took a break from his busy schedule to take in a drink at the luxurious upper class bar.

The 787-9 will replace Virgin Atlantic’s last two A340-300s. Additional 787-9 aircraft will be used for growth primarily in trans-Atlantic markets such as Detroit, San Francisco, and Atlanta. As more new 787-9s arrive, Virgin Atlantic will face an increasingly large problem regarding slots at the already busy London Heathrow Airport.

The 787's Upper Class cabin. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

The 787′s Upper Class cabin. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

During a Q and A session, Branson addressed the issue by taking a strong stance favoring the building of a much-needed third runway at Heathrow. Currently with no room to expand at Heathrow, the carrier has had to cut routes in order to start new ones, including the London-Atlanta route. As an alternative, Virgin Atlantic will have to expand at the less-favorable London-Gatwick Airport, where the airline also has a hub. It is also planning to expand service from Manchester as more planes arrive.

Virgin Atlantic flight attendants show off their new uniforms. Photo by Benjamin Bearup

Virgin Atlantic flight attendants show off their new uniforms. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Bearup

At the conclusion of the celebration, showcased the new Virgin Atlantic flight attendant uniforms designed by Vivienne Westwood. Branson also gave news regarding that Virgin Atlantic has converted five 787-9 options to firm orders, bringing the total number of the type in the fleet from 16 to 21.

The celebration of the 787-9 was only half of the days festivities, with the other half reserved to welcoming Virgin Atlantic to Atlanta and the ceremonial beginning of an increased partnership with 49 percent stakeholder Delta Air Lines.

Atlanta Airport General Manager Miguel Southwell, along with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, were on hand to welcome Virgin Atlantic to the city of Atlanta. Shortly after Branson’s grand introduction, featuring a choir singing “London’s Calling” by The Clash along with two flight attendants bearing flags from both the United Kingdom and the United States, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed joked that he “hopes his staff was watching” and to “take notes.” The addition of the London Heathrow to Atlanta route was the first of several routes Virgin Atlantic will add in cooperation with partner Delta Air Lines.

A 787 premium economy seat. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

A 787 premium economy seat. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic will be taking over the London Heathrow-Atlanta from Delta as both carriers overhaul their trans-Atlantic schedules to better suit existing markets. Growth in the Atlanta market will not end there for Virgin Atlantic. It also plans to take over the Manchester-Atlanta route from Delta using an A330-300 starting March 29, 2015. Additional growth will come this summer, when Virgin Atlantic goes to two daily flights between London Heathrow to Atlanta. Customers flying both carriers will be able to earn frequent flyer points for either carrier through this codeshare.

Virgin Atlantic will be the first carrier to utilize the new incentive based program recently passed by Atlanta’s city council designed to attract foreign carriers to start routes to Atlanta. “The programs overall goal is to make Atlanta a more diversified international destination,” said the airport’s Southwell, while also dismissing rumors that Delta is unhappy about the potential competition this program may bring. As part of the incentive program, Virgin Atlantic will not have to pay landing fees for one year in Atlanta, resulting in savings of up to $600,000. Currently Virgin Atlantic is the only carrier to use this incentive program.

RELATED STORIES

Virgin Atlantic Takes Delivery of First Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

ANALYSIS: Virgin Atlantic Restructures Network to Focus On Delta Relationship

Analysis: DOT Approves Delta & Virgin Atlantic North Atlantic Joint Venture

Virgin Atlantic To Fly First 787-9 This October

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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An Interview with Virgin America’s David Cush

by Austin Speaker / Published October 16th, 2014

Virgin America CEO David Cush. Photo by Austin Speaker

Virgin America CEO David Cush. Photo by Austin Speaker

David Cush, president and CEO of Virgin America, sat down with AirwaysNews.com after his triumphant entrance to Dallas Love Field with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson on the Uber Downtown Express flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.  He spoke about what the move to Love Field will mean to his airline and the citizens of Dallas, as well as about other developments.

AirwaysNews.com: Obviously this is a big move for Virgin. It’s your biggest expansion so far, or at least in the last five years. How important was this move for you from DFW to Love Field?

David Cush: Well, it was very important for us that we would not have launched flights to the east coast from DFW. Very simply, American is too strong at DFW to go up against them. We were confident with LA and San Francisco because we’ve got big bases there. So this is important because we think, number one it will also strengthen our San Francisco and LA flights, which is why we’re increasing, but also because it makes it possible for us to launch service into New York and Reagan National.

Airways: Are you also still looking into flights to Chicago, pending regulatory approval?

Cush: Well, we don’t really need regulatory approval for Chicago—we need gates, which we don’t have right now. We’re going to sit tight on that for a while. We think with these two gates that we can get about 18 departures a day out of Love Field. As of April, we’ll have four flights to each of our destinations, so that’s 16, so we’re just going to be careful about how we use those last two. It certainly could be Chicago; it’s at the top of our list for new cities, but we may also just decide to add additional frequencies to existing cities.

Airways: Are there any other cities you’re looking at for future service that may be of interest?

Cush: Probably Chicago is the biggest one, I’ll say, as far as out of Love Field. It’s a massive market and, again, we’re just being very careful about where we use our final two frequencies.

Airways: Are you looking to grow in Dallas in the future, or are you comfortable with the 16-18 departures a day?

Cush: We will not split operations, so we’re not going to reopen DFW. That’s just too expensive; and we’ve got two gates, and our expectation is that we will have to figure out how to operate out of those two gates. So my guess is you’re not going to see a lot of expansion as far as out of Dallas, unless gates magically become open, which I doubt they will.

Airways: Since the other carriers involved in the repeal of the Wright Amendment, Southwest and American, are legally bound not to further appeal what remains of the Wright Amendment, would Virgin see down the road possibly trying to carry on that torch to expand the airport?

Cush: No, not really. I was here when that battle was fought. It was a compromise with the community; these are compromises we have every day when you have airports or any other facility surrounded by neighborhoods. And I think it would be out of place for us to be the ones to challenge it. This is Southwest and American’s home; we’re visitors.

Airways: Could you see possibly trying to acquire one of the other gates here?

Cush: Now that’s a little bit contentious right now, and I’m going to stay out of it. They have their own issues they’re dealing with, and we’re happy with our two gates. We’re going to come in and just do a good job.

Airways: So far, are ticket sales reflecting that the additions of New York and D.C. were good decisions for you?

Cush: Yes—look, it’s very early. Washington just started today; New York starts in a couple of weeks. It’s very early, but what we’ve seen with LA and San Francisco, where we have comparisons because we flew from DFW last year, looks very good. We’re confident with things going forward.

Airways: Does it look like you’re going to be able to support the extra frequencies pretty easily?

Cush: Absolutely.

Airways: Obviously Virgin is sort of a niche market; its routes are few compared to a lot of the other carriers. Have you looked into possibly codesharing with another carrier U.S.-based carrier?

Cush: We haven’t looked at it seriously. My strong gut feeling is that if we asked anyone they would say no. Their network strength is really the most overwhelming benefit they have, and they wouldn’t want us to be able to piggyback off that. So it’s not really in the plans for us.

Airways: And are there any other international carriers that you’re looking at?

Cush: Well we do a lot of international stuff, interline as well as codeshare. I believe we’re just announcing a new codeshare tomorrow with China Airlines, so we do a lot, in particular out of LA and San Francisco with Asian carriers that are looking for some feed.

Airways: Have you looked at some of the other carriers like Porter or someone more on the east coast that would connect with your network?

Cush: We were close to the guys at Porter. Don Carty is our chairman and their chairman. We’ve looked at partnering with them in the past when we were in Toronto, but that simply didn’t work. They’ve got some automation challenges that would make that difficult in terms of partnering, so they aren’t high on our list, but they certainly run a fine airline.

Airways: This is the first time that any destination outside the west coast has gotten eastbound traffic. Could we see other destinations, like Chicago or Austin, with eastbound traffic?

Cush: It’s hard to tell. I think we try not to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to try and learn a lot from our experience here at Love Field and then take it from there. Our expectation is we will open up more focus cities, for lack of a better term, in the U.S.; it’s just that we want to learn from this one first.

Airways: Are any of those foreseen as being more on the east coast side? You run a lot of short-haul flights up and down the west coast, but that doesn’t really exist on the east coast for you. Is that something you’re looking at?

Cush: Not a lot. We’ve got a pretty big operation in New York—we serve all three airports. We are doing a little north-south flying out of New York this winter, just seasonally. It’s not really big in our plans. Those are well-served markets with very strong competitors. I think we’re pretty comfortable where we are.

Airways: Are there any other cities either in the network now or, perhaps more interestingly, that aren’t in the network now, that you’d like to target for a next focus city?

Cush: We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’re going to develop Love Field; we’re going to, I believe, learn a lot from our experience here, and that’s really going to influence where we go next.

Airways: How has the withdraw from Philadelphia gone over so far?

Cush: It was fine. You know, the mayor and the city were disappointed, but they were very gracious. They didn’t take any shots at us as we were leaving. We love Philadelphia—I wish we could have made it work. And we’ll be back there someday, but they were all very good to us all the way to the end.

Related Stories

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ANALYSIS: Virgin America Adds Utilization Flying in Las Vegas and New York

Will Profitability Remain Virgin Territory for Virgin America?

Image Courtesy of Virgin America

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Trip Report: Qatar Airways Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published October 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: Below is a trip report submitted by contributor Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and the 747-8. This is his first-person account of his adventures on the inaugural flight on Qatar Airways’ first A380, from Doha to London Heathrow.  Qatar Airways has 341 aircraft on order, including 12 A380s.

Qatar Airways at Hammad International Airport.

Qatar Airways at Hamad International Airport.

I was a little bit sad and disappointed when Qatar Airways’ original Airbus A380 inaugural, set for July 1 2014, was postponed indefinitely. On September 19, the first A380 landed at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Then the date for the inaugural flight was set for October 10, when my reservation was made for seat 2K. On the magic day, I arrived at Hamad International Airport at 5:20 a.m. on October 10 in order not to miss any of the festivities.

Pre-Departure

It took less than three minutes to check in, from the comfortable first-class counters to the escort through immigration and security to Qatar Airways’ Business Class Lounge, since the First Class Lounge won’t open until spring 2015. The lounge was more spacious and elegant than any other. The inside restaurant on second floor is available. It had a very limited a-la-carte selection, but a generous selection from the buffet menu.

The gracious lady who escorted me told me to be ready to proceed to gate A3, a short walk from the lounge, at 7:00 a.m., but I preferred to leave the lounge at 6:45. Boarding time was set at 7: 05 a.m., with a scheduled departure time set for 7:55 a.m.

I was surprised and disappointed that nothing happened at the gate to commemorate Qatar’s first A380 flight. There was no celebration, no speech and no decoration, just Qatar Airways’ staff distributing red roses to business- and first-class passengers, along with a banner.

There were no giveaway, no formal certificates, no souvenir – nothing. At least for the inaugural Doha-Miami flight, I got a small souvenir. All we received was a simple letter informing and welcoming all passengers about the flight.

Inflight

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

At first glance, it appeared that there was not enough space for a carry-on under the companion seat, so the flight attendant took mine away and stored it in a closet. The seat was very comfortable, and the seat and IFE controls were very easy to use. My only difficulty was in pulling out the magazines stored in a very tiny space. The IFR, Oryx, was equipped with a 26-inch screen with great resolution. It offers a large assortment of movies, TV shows, documentaries, inflight shopping and flight information.

A small personal closet for clothes is located just beside the screen. Opening the door gives you a great surprise: Missoni slippers and a Giorgio Armani amenity kit. Missoni pajamas were also given out, and a welcome drink was offered to the eight of us sitting in first class.

Boarding was completed at 7:45 a.m., the doors closed immediately after and the A380 pushed back at 7:54 a.m. We took off at 8:08 a.m. just passing over Doha and heading north west toward London Heathrow.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

At 8:16 a.m, the flight attendants started our meal service. Breakfast was served starting with drinks including fresh-squeezed orange or pineapple juice, a banana smoothie and a spicy tomato and celery health drink. Appetizers included fresh fruit with honey crème, Bircher Muesli, greek yogurt with honey and chopped pistachios and hazelnuts and salmon gravlax with dill crème.

The main meal was a choice of traditional Arabic breakfast , south Indian-style baked eggs with potatoes, create your own breakfast with a variety of eggs any style with 10 sides to choose from and cinnamon brioche french toast. My selection was very tasty, with generous portions and a superb cappuccino.

A bartender in the onboard first-class lounge.

Bertuccio in the onboard first-class lounge.

After the meal, I went to enjoy the lounge with other first-class passengers I met on other inaugurals, along with my great friend Isabelle. We all enjoyed cocktails and delicious chocolate cake was offered.

Post-flight

We landed at London Heathrow at 1:04. I was disappointed that there was no water cannon salute from the airport firefighters. We deplaned normally, without even a banner indicating the end of the inaugural flight. Only the captain made a mention of when welcoming passengers after we landed.

Having flown almost 20 inaugurals, most of them with the A380, and with that aircraft being the new Jewel of Qatar Airways fleet, I was expecting a lot more from them in terms of a celebration. Although the crew was attentive, the food was good and the IFE and seat comfort were extraordinary, it was not one of the best inaugural flight experiences. My next inaugural flight will be on December 27, on Etihad’s A380 Resident apartment.

IMG_8136 IMG_8139 IMG_8140 IMG_8146 IMG_8151 IMG_8152 IMG_8187 IMG_8195 IMG_8202 IMG_8206

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a complete list of Gino Bertuccio’s inaugural flights:

SR MD-11 CCS ZRH

CO 757 CCS IAH

CO 757 CCS EWR

SQ A380 SIN SYD

SQ A380 SYD SIN

SQ A380 SIN LHR

SQ A380 SIN NRT

SQ A380 NRT SIN

SQ A380 SIN CDG

SQ A380 SIN FRA-JFK

SQ A380 SIN -NRT -LAX

SQ A380 SIN HKG SFO

NH 787 NRT HKG

NH 787 HKG NRT

LX A340 ZRH SIN

LX A340 SIN ZRH

QR 777 DOH MIA

LH A380 FRA MIA

LH 747-8 FRA MIA

A380 Image Courtesy of Qatar Airways. Inflight Images Courtesy of Gino Bertuccio.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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Frontier Airlines to Launch Service to Miami

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published September 30th, 2014

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 painted in the new livery: Image Credit - Ben Bearup / Airways News

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 painted in the new livery: Image Credit – Ben Bearup / Airways News

Frontier Airlines is adding service to Miami, Florida, with nonstop flights to Philadelphia, New York La Guardia, and Denver beginning December 20, 2014. The ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) will also add nonstop service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on March 2, 2015. In total, the four destinations will be served with 38 flights per week, with frequencies as follow:

  • Philadelphia - 1 Flight / Day
  • New York La Guardia - 2 Flights / Day
  • Denver – 10 Flights / Week
  • Chicago O’Hare – 1 Flight / Day

Aircraft and schedules for the new flights have not yet been released.

Frontier Airlines’ launch of service to Miami comes on the heels of expansion in major markets such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Houston, Phoenix, and Washington Dulles. Frontier also announced a major expansion from Philadelphia Tuesday, funding the growth with major reductions in frequency on routes from its largest operation at Denver.

Year over year, Frontier is reducing frequency from Denver to Nashville, Cozumel, Dallas Fort Worth, Des Moines, Detroit, Fargo, Spokane (eliminated), Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York La Guardia (eliminated), Chicago Midway (eliminated), Minneapolis St. Paul, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Portland, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, ad St. Louis. Airways News estimates that Frontier will reduce frequency at Denver by close to 220 weekly departures, downsizing capacity by more than 25%.

In concert with expansion at Miami, Frontier will eliminate its nonstop flight between Denver and Fort Lauderdale, though it will preserve nonstop service to five other destinations from Fort Lauderdale. Frontier’s expansion at Miami also pre-empts in small part, a potential expansion by rival ULCC Spirit Airlines. Spirit currently does not serve Miami, but has its largest focus city at Fort Lauderdale. Airways News reported last year that Spirit is weighing incentives from Miami International Airport to move its entire focus city to Miami. Spirit and Frontier have increasingly brushed up against each other in their quest for profitable opportunities, and Miami looks to be no different.

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

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Analysis: Airbus A320neo First Flight Is a Triumph of Incrementalism

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published September 25th, 2014

The Airbus A320neo takes off for the first time from Toulouse, France. Image courtesy Airbus.

The Airbus A320neo takes off for the first time from Toulouse, France. Image courtesy Airbus.

The Airbus A320neo flew for the first time Thursday in Toulouse, marking the most important step towards entry into service for Airbus’ re-engined airline since the program was launched in December 2010. The first flight took off at just after 12:00 pm local time for a flight of 2 hours and 22 minutes, and was operated by an A320neo registered as F-WNEO (MSN6101)

The A320neo’s first flight occurred on schedule despite rumors that problems with the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G, whose smaller cousin, the PW1500G delayed flight testing for Bombardier’s competing CSeries program earlier this year, would push back the planned date. However, according to Airways News sources at the Tolouse-based airframer, testing of the A320neo’s second engine, the CFM International LEAP-1A is running behind schedule. The LEAP-1A has been chosen by a slight plurality of A320neo customers over the PW1100G (35% to 31%) despite the latter engine’s potential for better fuel burn and maintenance cost performance, though nearly 34% of firm orders for the A320neo have not yet been assigned an engine. CFM is the sole supplier of engines for rival Boeing’s competing 737 MAX with its LEAP–1B engine, and according to sources familiar with the respective programs, has been prioritizing resources and investment into the LEAP–1B.

Operating Economics Boosted

Alongside the first flight, Airbus has stepped up its effort in the war of words with rival Boeing, along with an update to the A320neo’s cost savings reflecting the increase in the maximum seating capacity of the A320neo to 189 seats thanks to the Space Flex design that rearranges the galley area. At the ISTAT Europe conference earlier this week, Airbus Chief Operating Officer, Customers John Leahy, presented updated performance estimates for the A320neo, which Airbus projects will burn 20% less fuel per seat versus the current A320ceo thanks to the aforementioned capacity increase and a performance improvement package (PiP) from Pratt & Whitney. The comparable figures for the A319neo and A321neo are 19% and 23% respectively, taking advantage of increases from 156 to 160 seats and 220 to 240 seats respectively.

However, it is well known that the A320neo’s operating economics will lag behind those of the 737 MAX 8, mirroring the present day gap between the A320ceo and the Boeing 737-800. The performance of the 200-seat 737 MAX 8, dubbed the 737 MAX 200, is also expected to be 20% better than the present-day 737-800, preserving the advantage held by Boeing. At the ISTAT Conference, in an interview with Leeham News and Comment, Kiran Rao, Executive Vice President, Sales & Marketing for Airbus, took aim at the higher capacity MAX 200. “At 200 seats the vast majority of [the 737 MAX’s] seats are at 28 inch pitch. Even at 194 the seat pitch is 28, as the lost seats are replaced with galley,” he says. “For the A320 at 189 seats, the majority of seats between Door 1 and mid cabin exit are at 30 in pitch. Behind the mid- cabin we are also at 28 in pitch.”

Despite Mr. Rao’s commentary, Airways News projects that the 737 MAX 8 (or MAX 200 for low cost carriers [LCCs]) will continue to hold an economic advantage over the A320neo. The A320neo currently has more firm orders than the 737 MAX 8 by a ratio of 2,484 to 1,952 but the latter aircraft has outsold the A320neo since it was launched, and Airways News eventually projects that the 737 MAX 8 will outsell the A320neo.

Family Success

However, despite Boeing’s edge in what the Chicago-based airframer has described as “the heart of the [narrowbody] market,” the Airbus A320neo family will likely outsell the 737 MAX over the long run, eventually stabilizing at a market share of 55-57%. The rationale comes from the dominant superiority of the A321neo versus the 737 MAX 9, which it has outsold by a ratio of 724 to 212. The 737 MAX 7 and A319neo have sold 55 and 49 copies respectively and are effectively irrelevant to the long run future of either program. But the A321neo represents a real advantage for Airbus, to such a degree that Boeing will likely be forced to launch a 757 successor.

Airways News is less confident than Boeing that the narrowbody market will be centered on the 737-800/A320 sized aircraft over the next 20 years. The trend in commercial aviation since the 1960s is a near continual increase in the size of the average mainline narrowbody aircraft; ranging from the Douglas DC-9-10/20 to the, Boeing 737-300 and McDonnell Douglas MD-81/82, to the A320 and 737-800 in the present day. The world’s aviation infrastructure is finite and increasingly embroiled in regulatory snafus (the Middle East excepted), and Asian markets in particular will need to up-gauge service in several markets in order to capture the growth in that continent’s middle class. It’s not unforeseeable that Airbus sells 2,500 copies of the A321neo over the next 15 years while Boeing trails with 1,250 737 MAX 9s and however many 757 replacement aircraft it can sell in the last four or five years of that window.

Airbus’ Greatest Triumph

Airbus’ control of the largest narrowbody segment underscores the remarkable success of the entire A320neo family of aircraft. Indeed, the A320neo, not the A350 or the troubled A380, is the greatest achievement for Airbus in the last 26 years (since the launch of the A320ceo) or perhaps even the 47-year history of the company. The A350 and A330neo were responses to the success of the Boeing 787 and the A380 was a prestigious project to be sure, but was plagued by delays and received tepid response from the market. But with the A320neo, Airbus finally seized control of the strategic dynamics of the large commercial aircraft, and it is poised to maintain substantial leadership in the narrowbody sector for at least one development cycle.

Setting aside the sales dominance of the A320neo, its more powerful achievement lies in what it represents strategically. After the initial success of the A320ceo, which Boeing more than countered with the more profitable 737 Next Generation, Boeing held the upper hand in the strategic balance between the two companies. Between the success of the 777 and the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing seized the upper hand in the more lucrative widebody segment of the market, while the tepid response to the A350 (really A330neo) Mark I sent Airbus scrambling back to the drawing board, and it couldn’t come up with a successful response (in the form of an A330neo) until Boeing was sold out for so many years that availability of mid-sized widebodies became a real challenge for several airlines. But with the A320neo, Airbus forced Boeing out of its complacent shell and plans to launch a clean-sheet 737 replacement in the early 2020s. But the success of the A320neo forced Boeing’s hand into a re-engining project that it didn’t want to undertake. The remarkable customer response to the A320neo, shifted the upper hand to Airbus, whose platform offers the opportunity for more savings in the long run due to its dual source engines and larger fan size (the A320neo’s wings are higher off the ground than those of the 737 MAX). Boeing’s initial belief that it could weather the storm by upgrading the 737NG was proved wishful thinking by American Airlines’ landmark order for 130 A320neos in July 2011, and Boeing was forced to scramble for an answer.

The Age of Incrementalism 

While the launch of the A320neo is certainly a joyous occasion for Airbus on its own, its impact on the aviation world is far more deleterious. The Airbus A320neo, by virtue of its success, has ushered in what we call an “Age of Incrementalism,” in which the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) avoid the massive investment and risk involved in developing clean sheet airplanes for the safe harbor of re-engined aircraft. Once the A320neo made it clear that airlines would accept a re-engined airplane so long as it delivered substantial improvements in operating economics (driven primarily by new engine technology), OEMs around the world began tailoring development towards re-engined projects like the Embraer E2, Boeing 777X, 737 MAX, and A330neo.

Bombardier’s CSeries, the 787, and the A350 all pre-date the A320neo, so none of the big four manufacturers is likely to build a new clean-sheet airplanes for ten years. Those ten years will see massive innovation in fields as disparate as automobiles and cloud computing, but the commercial airliner business will not participate. Aviation needs more of the 787 and A350, and less neo and MAX. For all of the faults of the 787, it represented genuine innovation in its body composition of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and in its passenger comfort advances. But the Boeing-Airbus duopoly (and Embraer-Bombardier beneath them) has gotten too comfortable. And the world of commercial aerospace suffers accordingly.

Eurasia to the Rescue?

Perhaps the best hope for restarting innovation in the commercial aerospace sector comes from the developing world; namely Russia, China, and East Asia. China is probably 30 years away from building a viable competitor to Boeing and Airbus aircraft (and we actually believe that a consortium involving some or all of Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam, and Taiwan might be the first Asian competitor for Airbus and Boeing). But Russia is a more interesting case. Recent geopolitical events and sanctions placed on the Russian economy have led the Russian government to increase investment in its domestic programs such as the Irkut MS-21. Russian technology and (more importantly) reliability is catching up with that of Western aircraft as evidenced by the improving performance of the Sukhoi Superjet. And its not inconceivable that at some point over the next decade, the Russians will launch an aircraft program that upsets the Airbus-Boeing duopoly, and in much the same manner as the A320neo, force the hand of executives in Tolouse and Chicago.

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

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Airbus A320neo Takes to the Air

By Ian Petchenik / Published September 25, 2014

Airbus A320neo first flight. Image courtesy Airbus.

Airbus A320neo first flight. Image courtesy Airbus.

The Airbus A320neo took to the skies for the first time today in Toulouse, France, marking a major milestone for the fast selling new engine option version of the plane. At just after noon, Central European Time, a crew of five took off in F-WNEO (MSN6101), for a flight of a little over 2 hours.

F-WNEO is powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JM engines, one of two engines being offered on the A320neo. The airplane is also being offered with CFM’s Leap Engine. Airbus is touting a 20% reduction in fuel burn on the A320neo compared to current engined A320s.

Flightpath of the first flight of the Airbus A320neo. Screenshot from FlightRadar24

Flightpath of the first flight of the Airbus A320neo. Screenshot from FlightRadar24

The test aircraft took off and landed in Toulouse, spending 2 hours, 22 minutes in the air over southern France.

Airbus’ order book for the A320neo family stands at 3,257, spanning over 50 customers. Airbus has taken large orders from airlines such as Air Asia, Lion Air, and American Airlines, which has 130 A320neo aircraft on order.

 

 

 

Airbus is showing a live-feed of the test flight, which you can watch live here.

The Airbus A320neo takes off for the first time from Toulouse, France. Image courtesy Airbus.

The Airbus A320neo takes off for the first time from Toulouse, France. Image courtesy Airbus.

 

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Fort Lauderdale Airport Debuts New Runway

By Vinay Bhaskara, Ian Petchenik, and Chris Sloan/ Published September 18th, 2014

Fort Lauderdale Airport’s new, $826 million runway opened today with JetBlue’s Flight 1028 the first to touch down. The new runway 10R/28L sits on the south of the airport and runs parallel to Fort Lauderdale’s existing 9000 foot runway. The runway, part of a $2.3 billion capital improvement program at the airport, took three years and three months to complete, but was decades in the making. It is 8000 feet long and 150 feet wide, and will allow Fort Lauderdale to operate simultaneous landings and departures, expanding capacity at the airport to up to 425,000 flights annually, up from 260,000 at present. Until now, Fort Lauderdale had been limited to a single main air carrier runway, much like San Diego and London’s Gatwick Airport.

The elevated eastern end of Fort Lauderdale's runway: Image Credit - Fort Lauderdale Airport

The elevated eastern end of Fort Lauderdale’s runway: Image Credit – Fort Lauderdale Airport

The new runway’s design is unusual, as the eastern end of the runway is elevated to allow traffic on highway US 1 and a freight railway line to pass underneath aircraft on take off. The eastern end of the runway was elevated by 52 feet using 11 million tons of dirt and has a slope of 1.3 degrees. 10R/28L is one of just three runways in the United States with a slope of 1.3 degrees or more. To facilitate traffic flow, the airport constructed six runway structures, each of which is 810 feet long and six taxiway structures that are 440 feet long. These structures are smaller-scale versions of the runway construction at Madeira Airport in Portugal, whose elevated runway opened in 2002.

The new runway is only part of a $2.3 billion capital improvement project. Broward County, operator of the airport, is also currently renovating three of its terminals and completely reconstructing Terminal 4. Construction in all of the terminals is slated to be completed by 2017. Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are getting a much needed $300 million facelift and Terminal 1, which houses Southwest Airlines is getting an additional $150 million for the construction of a five international gates in a new Concourse A. The main terminal complex dates to the 1980s and is certainly showing its age.

Concourse A

Southwest’s New International Concourse A at Terminal 1: Image Credit – Fort Lauderdale Airport

Southwest is expected to use Fort Lauderdale as a growing hub for its increased international operations when the new gates come online. Southwest is today the second largest airline at Fort Lauderdale by market share, and it is locked in a tight competition with JetBlue to grow market share in Fort Lauderdale and use it as a base to serve Latin American destinations. Although the county is paying for the construction via grants and passenger facility charges, Southwest is managing all construction in Terminal 1.

Terminal 4, FLL’s international terminal, is being completely rebuilt because of its position on the airfield. Terminal 4’s Concourse H is situated in an area needed for the south runway airfield improvements. The $450 million terminal’s reconstruction is being completed in two stages, with the West phase scheduled to open in 2015 and the East scheduled for completion in 2017. 14 additional gates are planned, for a total of 24 in the terminal.

Fort Lauderdale's New Terminal 4: Image Credit - Fort Lauderdale Airport

Fort Lauderdale’s New Terminal 4: Image Credit – Fort Lauderdale Airport

Work in the terminals will also bring vast improvements to the airport passenger experience. A connector bridge is being built between Terminals 3 and 4 to allow for easier passenger connections between international and domestic flights. Arriving passengers will only need to clear security once. Passengers will also have a new corridor connecting the gates directly to the customs area, reducing passenger walk times after they deplane.

A common complaint about FLL is the lack of airside concessions, a problem being addressed in all terminals. Terminals 1, 2, and 3 will see reconfigured and new concessions as well as new retail space. Ticketing and security screening areas will also see a major overhaul, streamlining the process.

In-line baggage handling systems, which allow for explosives detection while the baggage is moving on the conveyor belt, are also being installed. In-line baggage systems have been installed in Terminals 1 and 2. Terminal 3 is slated to receive the upgrade baggage system by next year, while Terminal 4 will open with the system installed.

Fort Lauderdale, which handled a record 23.5 million passengers in 2013, is an increasing hotspot for competition between network carriers JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, ultra-low cost carriers (ULCC) Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, and regional carrier Silver Airways. JetBlue has served Fort Lauderdale continuously since it began operations in 2000, and is today the largest airline at Fort Lauderdale by market share, edging ahead of Southwest, but both carriers aim to nearly double their footprint at Fort Lauderdale with the new runway, and turn Fort Lauderdale into the second Latin American gateway in South Florida.

JetBlue 1028 is the first to land on the new runway. Photo courtesy John Magero.

JetBlue 1028 is the first to land on the new runway. Photo courtesy John Mageropoulos/Florida Aviation Photography.

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JetBlue 1018 receives a water cannon salute upon arrival on the new runway. Photo courtesy John Mageropoulos/Florida Aviation Photography

Accordingly, the first commercial flight to christen the new runway was JetBlue Flight 1028, a so-called “flight-to-nowhere” that took off from the north runway and landed on the new south runway. The flight number, 1028, was chosen in accordance with the compass heading of the new runway. Flight 1028 departed 10/28 north at 9:28 am. The Airbus A320 flew east and then west over Everglades climbing to 7,000 feet. Over the everglades, the seat belt sign was turned off for 5 minutes before turning back east and descending into Fort Lauderdale. No inflight snacks were offered, and the FlyFi was turned off, due to the maximum altitude of 7,000 feet. After 25 minutes in the air, JetBlue 1028 became the first flight to land at 9:53 am local time. The pilots made sure to land with extra force in order to christen the runway with its first skid marks. After Flight 1028, the runway will formally be opened for normal commercial flights Thursday afternoon. The first regularly scheduled flight to use the new runway was also a JetBlue flight. Flight 506 to Newark, New Jersey departed at 2:40pm local time. Check out our photos of JetBlue’s flight below.

Image Credit - Chris Sloan / Airways News

Image Credit – Chris Sloan / Airways News

JBLU 5 JBLU 4

 

 

 

JBLU 3 JBLU 6

 

 

 

 

JBLU 2 JBLU 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JBLU 8 JBLU 7

 

 

 

 

 

JBLU 10 JBLU 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo courtesy Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

 

 

 

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NOTE: Airways News will publish an in-depth analysis of the Fort Lauderdale market soon
Chris Sloan in Fort Lauderdale also contributed to this story
Gallery images courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News
Contact the author at ian@petchmo.com
Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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