Category Archives: Inaugurals and First Flights

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

By Jay Haapala / Published January 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN: What was the atmosphere like onboard the aircraft?

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

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

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

AN: Tell us about the flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover image courtesy of AirwaysNews.

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

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Flashback: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onboard were four pilots, 31 flight attendants, and 455 passengers. Of the latter, the youngest was 10 months old, the oldest a 91-year-old man in suites flying with six family members and his male nurse. The passenger manifest revealed that 28 percent were Australians, 14 percent were Singaporeans, 11 percent Britons, and 8 percent from the United States. Surprisingly, there were very few French and Germans. The couple in front of us, 50 percent of the representation from Germany, was the constant focus of two of that country’s TV news crews.my-friend-and-ex-cathay-boeing-747-pilot-oscar-garcia-and-me_7711

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Singapore A380 Brochures and Memorabilia

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

EXTRAPhotos from the inaugural Airbus A380 flight

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

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

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Contact the writer at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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The Airbus A380 By The Numbers

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 20, 2015

Editor’s note: As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the rollout of the first Airbus A380, on January 18, 2005, this week we will take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Yesterday we wrote about the history of the A380. Today, we take a look at the key numbers for the A380, via Airbus.

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

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

List price: $414 million

 

Total orders: 318

 

Total deliveries: 152

EXTRA: The Airbus A380: A History

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

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

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of Its First A380

Number of airlines that have taken delivery: 13

 

Top A380 operator: Emirates, 55

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

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

EXTRA: Emirates Takes Delivery Of Its 50th A380

Aircraft in operation: 152

Cost to develop the aircraft: $25 billion *

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

Weight saved because of composites: 15 tons

Wing span: 79.75 meters (87.21 yards)

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

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

Overall length: 72.72 meters (79.52 yards)

Height: 24.09 meters (26.34 yards)

Number of passengers carried since launch: 75 million

Number of routes served: 94

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

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

Number of destinations served: 44

 

Most aircraft delivered: 30, in 2012

 

Capacity: 525 in three-class configuration

Lufthansa business class on the A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Lufthansa business class on the A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

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

 

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

 

* Figure according to the New York Times

 

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

 

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

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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The Airbus A380: A History

By Jay Haapala / Published January 19, 2015

Editor’s note: As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the rollout of the first Airbus A380, on January 18, 2005, this week we will take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Today, we take a look at the history of the A380.

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

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

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

The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airbus Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Flight and Deliveries

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

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

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

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

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

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

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

Delivery of Qantas' first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Delivery of Qantas’ first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

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

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

Love at First Flight

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

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

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

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

Click here for an interactive timeline of the Airbus A380.

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

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

Extra: Airbus A380 Sales and Marketing Brochures

Extra: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Original Sales and Marketing Brochures

Cover photo courtesy of Airbus

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Delta To Start West Coast 717 Operations In June

By Jack Harty / Published January 16, 2015

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Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Delta Inaugurates Boeing 717 Flights Between Atlanta and Newark

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Contact the author at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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Scoot Sees First Boeing 787 Take to the Sky

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published January 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scoot 787 JDL-2

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Contact the editor benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Contact the author: Jeremy@JDLMultimedia.com or follow on Twitter @photoJDL

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What the A350 Means to Qatar Airways’ Fleet Planning

By Seth Miller / Published January 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s note: Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you’ll get a summary of our best stories, along with exclusive subscribers-only content including our Weekend Reads column and photos from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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Contact the author at seth@millerworks.net, follow Seth on Twitter at @WandrMe.

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airways.com

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American Airlines’ First Boeing 787 Takes Flight

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By Brandon Farris / Published January 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: American Airlines’ 787 Makes First Appearance

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

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

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

 

See the FlightAware tracking map of the first flight here.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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

By AirwaysNews Staff / Published December 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s note: We have a weekly newsletter and want YOU as a subscriber. Every Friday get a summary of our best stories of the week, along with our exclusive subscribers-only Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from the AirwaysNews.com photo archive. Click here to subscribe today!

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AirTran Flies Final Flight: Onboard the Last Flights

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

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

The Origins of AirTran

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

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

EXTRA: A History of Air Tran

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

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

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

EXTRA: Inside AirTran’s 717s

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

The Southwest Merger

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Photo by JDL Multimedia

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

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

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

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

The Final Day of Operations

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

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

The Farewell Begins in Milwaukee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Final Flight: AirTran 1 ATL-TPA

Pre-Departure Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boarding

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Five memorable AirTran commercials

Pushback

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

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

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

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

The Final Flight 1 to Tampa

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

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

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

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Arrival

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

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

Extra: AirTran & ValueJet Timetables and Route Maps

Extra: A History of Air Tran

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Extra: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

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

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

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

You can contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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Meet Etihad’s First Residence Passenger

By Jack Harty / Published December 24, 2014

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Photo courtesy of Airbus

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

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

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

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Mr. Bertuccio on-board the inaugural A380 flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Chris Sloan from Doha, Qatar  / Published December 23, 2014

DOHA, QATAR - At 9:28 PM LT on Tuesday, December 23, Qatar’s first A350 XWB landed in Doha–under the cover of darkness–with approximately 70 Qatar employees, VIP’s and members of the media from Toulouse, France.

Qatar's A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar’s A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

A day earlier, Airbus handed over the first A350 XWB to Qatar Airways, and shortly after taking delivery of the aircraft, the airline flew several executives and more than a hundred members of the media on a short demonstration flight over the Mediterranean.

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

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

After the big delivery ceremony Monday, it was time for the delivery flight to Doha which would be operated just like a normal scheduled commercial flight, but there would be fewer people on-board.

Business Class was full while approximately ten passengers–who were all employees of Qatar–would have the two economy cabins to themselves. 

As much as I anticipated experiencing the Airbus A350 XWB in a true commercial flight, I was equally curious to put Qatar’s renowned SkyTrax 5 star rated Business Class marketed and self-proclaimed as “World’s Best Business Class” to the test. Some of the burning questions I had included: Would it live up to all the hype and marketing expectations? Is it truly a First Class product at a Business Class price? Is the Airbus A350 XWB cabin truly an “eXtra Wide Body” experience?

Checking-In

Upon arrival, it was business as usual; we went through the standard and typical check-in, customs, and security screenings just like any other flight, but there were not lines.

Once arriving at the gate, the media had an opportunity to walk around the A350 while it was getting ready for its six hour journey to Doha, and there was even an opportunity to do a little shopping at the Airbus store.

Time to Board

Although it was just like a normal flight, there were no lines which made boarding very easy. We boarded through the L2 door which has a bar in the middle of the cabin. It is complete with a signature middle light on the roof with an Arabic frame around the light. As with many 787 operators, this provides an entry like a hotel and enhances the boarding processes.

Champagne, towels, newspapers, and magazines were offered before departure, and I quickly headed to my seat.

At every seat, there was a hardcover commemorative A350 delivery menu which stated “ahead of the curve” which is a homage to the A350′s curved wingtip. There was also a dye cut out matting in the shape of the A350 cockpit window, and inside, it listed the dining menu and the extensive wine list. Additionally, the phrase “You will never forget your first time on a Qatar A350″ emblazoned the wine menu.

Almost immediately upon boarding the A350, one notices the high flat sculptured ceilings and flat vertical side walls which are a signature of the A350 eXtraWideBody.

The panoramic windows are also noticeably larger then any Airbus product before. Although they are not as large as the 787, they allow a great deal of natural light into the cabin. The windows in Business Class utilize a pleasing dual shade electromechanical feature while Economy’s are conventional manual shades. Airbus made a point of going with a simpler system then the 787′s dimming feature.

The LED mood lighting also stands out, but they did not come on until the meal service was concluded.

Once it was time for pushback, Toulouse ground crew and executives turned out in mass to wish us Bon voyage. There were also plane spotters adjacent to the runway waiting to photograph our departure. The captain announced “welcome aboard the first A350 flight” making it one of just a few times that people would be aware they were on a very “special flight.”

Take Off

Qatar also took delivery of its fourth Airbus A380 on Monday, December 22, and it flew the aircraft back to Doha simultaneously with the A350. Below are some pictures of the two aircraft beginning their journey home to Doha from Toulouse.

At 1:22 PM, we began a very quiet 42 second take off roll, and at 1:50 PM we reached FL400 over the Swiss Alps, picking up a little light chop from mountain wave. The A350′s gust suppression system handled the wave with aplomb and we were avoided a breathtaking view in the process.

After take off, the flight attendants wasted no time in starting their service as we were offered a comfort bag complete with pajamas ten minutes.

Qatar’s A350 Business Class Cabin

Qatar’s A350 XWB Business Cabin is in a two-cabin configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. These very comfortable seats convert to a lie-flat bed. For privacy, the middle two seats boast a powered divider. Each Business Class cabin is separated by the semi-circular bar unit.

There is a flat screen Thales IFE in front of the seat with the seat controls just to the left. The remote control, electrical power for European and US standards and USB ports are all to the left. There is storage space in cubbies at the right armrest where noise canceling headphones are stored along with a bottle of water and to the left under the table. Another cubby is to the left just under the lacquered wood pull out table. Behind the seat to the right is a storage shelf. This hard product is similar to Qatar’s A380, 777, and 787s.

In Business Class, Qatar opted for power electromechanical window shades which scroll down in two screens to soften light and make opaque.

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

In economy, convention manual window shades are used. This is a much simpler system the the 787 electronically dimmer systems Airbus claims.

As on other Qatar aircraft, there is framed art work in this case the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

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The PSU. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

I was seated in 8A which affords excellent views of the A350′s signature swooping wingtip. I was able to store my bags in the overhead compartments which were very roomy. Plus, the compartments don’t swing down to interfere with service.

The Passenger Service Unit (PSU) has an LCD screen overhead which indicates WiFi, Phone Switch Off, and No Smoking. This was a first for me to see such a screen.

There is a fold out tray table in a lacquered wood finish, and one major benefit of the tray table is that it allows one to enter and exit the seat with the tray table in the down position.

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

An amenity kit by Giorgio Amani was already at the seat. Inside, it had pillows and douvet.

There are separate amenity kits for men and women. The male kit has cologne, moisturizer, tooth brush, and shaving cream, and all of the kits have the Qatar eyeshades.

 

Qatar’s A350 Economy Cabin

Economy Class has 247 seats split between two cabin. Each seat is 18-inches wide, in a 3-3-3 configuration, and has up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen. The extra width of the A350 cabin and flat sidewalls especially shine through in the rear two Y cabins.

Currently, Qatar does not offer a premium economy product.

The Lavatory

The lavatories are masterpieces in their own right. They are bathed in red colored light with a rose and a backlit mirror. There are touch sensitive controls to adjust water temperature. An elegant textured finish on the sink with an understated dark wood floor which are also in the galleys makes this room a show stopper. Plus, the lavatories have a sweet aromatic orange smell which is very pleasing. I could have stayed in here the whole flight, but I digress.

The In-Flight Meal

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar is famed for its wine list. There were 9 vintages of wine and champagne on offer, Graham’s Tawny Port from 1969, and a full complement of spirits. In fact the airline controls alcohol  distribution in the dry country of Qatar. Sauvignon Blanc Craggy Range 2012 was the perfect and rather frequent accompaniment for my palette.

The appetizers included: Classic Arabic mezzo; Smoked mackerel with green bean salad . My delicious choice was a melding of delicious textures and spices. Three types of breads were also in the dish. The dish had an exquisite presentation which almost prevented me from eating it as it was too gorgeous.

FOOD 1

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For the main course, there was the choice between: Tandoori paneer with mussalam sauce, Braised lamb shank with dried fruit couscous, and Marinated chicken beast with lentils. I went with the chicken and was not disappointed. The combination of lentils and walnuts – plus the juiciest chicken I have ever had in flight – translated into a dining experience that would be the envy of many at a gourmet restaurant. This airline is indeed a foodie paradise.

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

After the main course, there was a cheese plate with cheeses, grapes, and chutney.  For desert, there was the choice between: a selection of seasoned fruits, ice cream, and Lauduree Ispahan which is a rise flavored soft macaron biscuit, rose petals cream, raspberries and lychees. Again, the presentation on this desert compelled me to want to frame it rather then consume it. The Lauduree Ispahan tasted as good as it looked.

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For light options during the flight, there was a selection of hot pastries and a grilled steak sandwich with balsamic onions and mustard mayonnaise on offer.

During the Flight

HE Al Baker, Qatar’s President and CEO, made several passes throughout aircraft personally inspecting the service and asking passengers if everything was OK service wise. Clearly as he walked around the cabin, he was inspecting every detail to make sure it was perfect. Crew and staff refer to him as “Chief”.CEO

The inflight the buffet / bar area became a common gathering point for conversation. It was unmanned, but it was stocked with Krug champagne, snacks, fresh fruit, and Godiva chocolates.  The two-piece unit itself is used for storing galley carts.

The A350 was of course very smooth and quiet. It’s easily possible to have a whisper like conversation on-board, and this trait came in handy as many people were sleeping during the flight. The A350 also has a sense of roominess which is what really gives the aircraft its edge. As mentioned before, the wide fuselage is a particular advantage in economy where Airbus is able to put to good effect the 18″ seat in a 3-3-3 configuration. Even with a 32″ pitch one can tell the difference especially at the window owing to the flat sidewalls. The wide-body cabin falls just short of the 777 diameter which is intentional to deter airlines from offering the dreaded ten abreast seating.

As our flight was a medium haul–six hours and twelve minutes from take off to touchdown–it wasn’t easy to detect the effect of the increased humidity and reduced pressurization levels. But  like is often the case, even with the jet lag I did notice that I felt more refreshed upon arrival. The air smelled very fresh and clean owing to the XWB’s zonal filtration system.

But as unique and special as the A350 XWB is, from a passenger experience, it is almost a secondary player to Qatar’s apex level of service. The plane itself doesn’t wow like an A380 with marketing gimmicks, but it certainly delights. Think of it this way, a Broadway play can have an amazing set and theater venue, but it is the story and actors that keep the audiences raving. In this case, Qatar is the story and the A350 is the set.

The On-Air WiFi was inoperative but that was a good thing as it left us with time to do old fashioned things like take in a movie, hang out at the bar, and convivially chat with other guests on the flight.

During the flight, I played with the IFE–dubbed Oryx  Thales TopSeries– and the remote control– dubbed TPMU Touch Passenger Media Unit — which control everything from IFE to window shades to lighting. Some basic functions on the IFE are controlled on screen, but most features are accessed by the remote control which is very useful when in recline position.

The IFE was one of my few complaints in that its not intuitive as to what is controlled on the screen and what’s controlled on the remote. The exhaustive list of entertainment options are time consuming, and at times, frustrating to scroll through on the remote’s small LCD screen. Qatar’s inflight entertainment catalog is a comprehensive, but fairly typical offering of movies, games, TV shows, and music in multiple languages, and there is of course the tail cam view with moving interactive map. Where the A380 has three cameras, the A350 settles for one camera but I am not complaining.

Following meal service, the cabin crew offered bedding turndown service. This service and pajamas are typically offered on ultra-long haul and night flights but Qatar wanted to demonstrate this to the press. Matters, duvet, and blanket were thoughtfully laid out by cabin crew. Unlike many carriers where the cabin crew then disappear to their bunks or the gallery, Qatar’s well coordinated inflight team continued to attend to us offering snacks, beverages, and conversation. It was evident that they were very proud of their airline.

About 25 minutes before arrival, the mood lighting transitioned to a soft, calming aqua, and just before landing, we were each personally thanked by the very hospitable crew for flying Qatar Airways and that they were looking forward to seeing us soon. Indeed, I hope I will see them all soon again as I did not want this flight to end. Luckily, I had six hours and twelve minutes to enjoy flying on Qatar’s A350.

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Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Upon arrival into Doha Hamad International Airport, we were carried on individual golf carts through the gorgeous – but mammoth – new airport by a concierge to be escorted to retrieve our luggage by a bellman. The concierge and bellman escort you all the way to ground transportation. This is a VIP service available on request. After a long journey into a newly discovered destination late in the evening, this is a very welcome perk.

Conclusion

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Chris Sloan on-board the A350 Delivery Flight

Qatar’s A350 Business product lives up to its billing as a First Class product at a Business Class price. The hard product, soft product, and very attentive, gracious, and multi-cultural service makes this a stand out regardless of competition. Apart from a few announcements and the presence of the airline’s CEO, this felt just like any other Qatar flight, and I think that was the point.

At this level of service in Business, I can only imagine to what levels Qatar’s A380 First Class service ascends to. Certainly the historic and special nature of the A350 delivery flight was a highlight. What I didn’t expect was that Qatar’s everyday level of service would actually eclipse the aircraft as the star of the show. Without a doubt, this was the highest level of service I have ever experienced. When an airline makes such an audacious claim as “World’s Best Business Class”, they had better deliver and Qatar did.

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

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Qatar Airways provided accommodations and flights to and from Doha. Our opinions remain our own.

Cover photo and latest photos courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia.

Contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

By Chris Sloan in Toulouse and Jack Harty in Houston / Published December 22, 2014

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - This afternoon, Airbus and Qatar Airways took more than a hundred members of the media on-board Qatar’s first A350 XWB for a quick demonstration, after the first delivery earlier today.

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

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

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

At 1:30 PM members of the media as well as Qatar and Airbus executives all started boarding the A350 for a quick demonstration flight. As expected, it took a while to board as everybody wanted to explore the aircraft.

Qatar’s CEO, Al Baker, boarded the aircraft through the rear and did a walk through of the aircraft.

When stepping on-board for the first time, Chris Sloan writes that he “noticed that the A350 XWB boasts overwhelming high ceilings and that the windows are noticeably larger. Plus, Qatar’s A350 have a beautiful wood floor, and the 18” wide inch seats are noticeably much roomier, even with a seat pitch of 32” inches.”

At 2:03 PM, the aircraft pushed back from the delivery center, and taxied to runway 14R, and shortly after, it began a 26 second take off roll which was very quiet with the Trent XWB engines.  It felt very quick as the aircraft was very light. The aircraft hit V1 at 140 knots at a GTOW of 198,000 kilograms being lightly provisioned with little fuel and no cargo.

As the aircraft approached 22,000 feet, flight attendants began going through the cabin serving champagne and appetizers as they navigated around the media and executives as they explored the aircraft; nobody wanted to sit down during the flight because it was one giant airborne party.

Qatar’s A350 XWB is in a two-class configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. Economy Class has 247 seats, each 18-inches wide in a 3-3-3 configuration, with up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen.

When looking out the window, there was a nice view of the Mediterranean coast as well as the Pyrenees mountain prior to descent.

At 3:08 PM, the A350 XWB landed back in Toulouse, and the pilots executed a grease job of a landing, and seven minutes later, the aircraft blocked in at the delivery center again. Tuesday, we will be on the delivery flight to Doha. Stay with us for continuing coverage.

After the flight, AirwaysNews was able to take a quick peek inside the state-of-the-art cockpit.

The tail camera was active throughout all phases of the flight.

BONUS: Enjoy a few photos of the media demonstration flight from Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/JDL Multimedia:

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 Program Timeline

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

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

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Airbus provided accommodations and flights to Toulouse. Our opinions remain our own.

Chris Sloan contributed to this story from Toulouse, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Houston.

You can contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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

By Chris Sloan in Toulouse and Jack Harty in Houston / Published December 22, 2014

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The Qatar Airways A350 at the Delivery Center Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - This morning, Qatar Airways took delivery of the world’s first Airbus A350 XWB which is the last clean sheet wide body airliner until the next decade.

In an elaborate and dramatic ceremony held in Toulouse, the first A350 XWB aircraft was officially handed over by Airbus its launch customer, Qatar Airways.

EXTRA: PHOTOS from the Qatar A350 Delivery Event

A Long Road to Get to First Delivery

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The road to get to the first A350 to its launch customer started a little more then a decade ago when Airbus refuted claims that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would be a serious threat to its A330 program, but the manufacturer still went to work to design an aircraft that would be able to directly compete with the 787. Initially, the design called for the new aircraft to look almost identical to the A330, but with some big changes to its wings and engines. On December 10, 2004, the boards of EADS and BAE Systems and the shareholders of Airbus gave Airbus the clearance to go ahead with this aircraft design, and it was dubbed the A350 program. The manufacturer made many design changes over the next few months as the Paris Air Show quickly approached, and on June 13, 2005, Qatar Airways announced plans, during the Paris Air Show, to purchase 60 A350s, making it the launch customer.

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 XWB Timeline

The manufacturer initially planned for three models in the family: the A350-800, -900, and -1000, which seat between 270 and 350 passengers in typical three-class layouts with maximum range between 8,480 and 10,300 nautical miles. The A350 family has already secured 778 firm orders from 41 customers worldwide including additional industry luminaries Air France/KLM, US Airways, Hawaiian, Emirates, Ethiad, Aeroflot, Air Lingus, TAM, Singapore Airlines, and Thai. Though Hawaiian switched their 6 orders from the virtually cancelled A350-800 to the A330neo last week.

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

On June 11, 2013, Airbus reported that the initial ground taxi tests were complete, and that the A350 would take to the skies for the first time on June 14 at 10:00 a.m. Toulouse time.

At 9:15 a.m. on June 14, the media were transported via buses to a large field parallel to runway 14R/32L where the A350 would make its maiden take-off.  After the first flight, A350 Test Pilot Frank Chapman noted that “though this is an incredible moment, it is only the first hour of a year-long, 2,500 hour, five flight test campaign…The cockpit and many other aircraft systems are much further ahead than the A380 was on its first flight.”

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

Didier Evrard, the EVP and Head of the A350 Program offered a briefing after the four hour and five minute flight. “This (first flight) is one event, a very significant event, but the program is a fast moving body and this is just the first step,” he said. “Our next challenges are maturity at EIS and production ramp-up. The A380 program has been rich in lessons for this program and has led to us to deeply rework our practices.” Exactly one week after MSN-1’s first flight, the aircraft made a historic pass over the Paris Air Show as part of its third test flight.

EXTRA: A Look Back at the A350 Program Timeline

Delivery Day

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Media’s tickets to check-in for the delivery event. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

On December 22, 2014, over 150 members of the media joined Airbus in Toulouse on the historic day to celebrate the first delivery of the world’s first A350 XWB to Qatar Airways. So far, it has been a packed day, but it has allowed the media to hear from several Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Qatar executives to hear about the last clean sheet wide body airliner until the next decade as nothing has been planned.

Kiran Rao, EVP of Strategy and Marketing: The A350 is Unique

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Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

During the first press conference, Kiran Rao, Airbus’ EVP Strategy and Marketing, went over some of the big things that make the A350 unique and compared it to the Boeing 777 family quite a few times. Rao explained that one thing that sets the A350 apart is that its systems are a lot more simplified than other aircraft thanks to having fewer fuel and hydraulic systems. Additionally, the goal of the A350 program was to save 25% in fuel burn compared to the Boeing 777-300ER.

Rao also pointed out that passengers will notice that the A350 is unique too for several reasons. In particular, Airbus opted to not go as wide as the 777 which kept the A350 at nine abreast for passenger comfort with wider seats by 5” which makes the 18″ wide seat a whole inch greater then competition. Additionally, the A350 cabin pressurization is at 6,000 feet, and the windows are larger with traditional window shades, making it less complicated than the 787 system.

Didier Evrad, EVP of A350 XWB Program: Program Highlights

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Didier Evrard, EVP A350XWB Program, speaking at the press conferences prior to the start of the delivery ceremony. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Didier Evrard, EVP A350XWB Program, discussed some of the highlights of the A350 XWB program. One major highlight is that the A350-900 certification is the quickest it has taken Airbus to receive certification for a new aircraft.

EXTRA: Airbus A350 Wins EASA Certification

EXTRA: Airbus A350-900 Wins FAA Type Certification

Since the first flight in 2013, a family of five test aircraft have flown more than 2,800 hours over 680 flights which has helped Airbus deliver the A350 XWB on-time to its launch customer. The aircraft also participated in 26 route proving flights over 20 days, and Airbus proved that the A350 is capable of being turned around quickly for an on-time departure.

EXTRA: Airbus A350 Completes World Tour

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Rolls Royce President Eric Shultz, left, meets with HE Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, and Airbus CEO and President Fabrice Brégier after the formal delivery of the A350. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Evrad also provided some other updates. Currently, Airbus is at a production rate of two aircraft per month, but it will get up to ten aircraft per month by 2017. Additionally, The next 2 A350s customers will be Vietnam and Finnair. Qatar is due to be operating eight by the end of 2015.

Lastly, Evrad wrapped up his speech with some updates to the A350-1000 program. The first aircraft will be on the Final Assembly Line by in 2015, with first flight due in 2016. It’s still on track for its first delivery to occur in mid-2017. Currently, the -1000 variant has 169 orders from 9 customers.

EXTRAAirbus A350 Program Head Talks Program Maturity, Stretch A350-1000

Eric Schultz, Rolls-Royce President-Aviation: Top of the Line Engines

Eric Schultz, Rolls-Royce President-Aviation, also made some remarks at the event. He said: “The Trent XWB is most efficient engine flying on a wide body in the world, and that people were so proud we had a parade when we sent out the first Trent XWB for installation.”

EXTRAEASA Approves Airbus A350 XWB for Record 370 minutes for ETOPS

Fabrice Bregier, President and CEO of Airbus: First Delivery, Delivery Delay, and A380 Program

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Airbus’ President and CEO speaking at a press conferences before the delivery ceremony. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Fabrice Bregier, President and CEO of Airbus, was proud to say that they delivered the A350 before the end of the year as promised. Earlier this month, Qatar Airways postponed delivery, but it was not clear what the issue initially was. Airbus executives stressed the aircraft was already at the Delivery Center and ready to go, but luckily, a few days later, Qatar said it would accept the first A350 delivery on December 22. According to Bregier, the delay was due to a small issue with an unnamed supplier.

Bregier went on to say: “Akbar you are a tough customer and very demanding but you are an architect for the A350. You will make it easier for other customers. You are the largest customer. We owe you a lot. You believed in us.”

Although this was about the A350, Bregier did address the media about the A380 program. He said: “We are now in industrial phase. We will deliver 30 aircraft in 2015 thru 2017. We believe we can get more customers as the trend is In favor of A380. The idea of stopping it is crazy. We will continue and one day look for incremental improvements and a stretch version. It has a brighter future.”

HE Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar: Receiving First A350

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HE Akbar Al Baker, Group CEO of Qatar Airways, speaks during the first delivery of the Airbus A350XWB Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Lastly, HE Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar, addressed the media. He reminded the crowd that the A350 is the last all new large airliner for the decade, and he also explained that he is very proud to have launched it seven years ago with Airbus.

Al Baker also went on to say that the carrier is excited to take the A350 to London soon to show them just how quiet and environmentally friendly it is. Qatar will begin flying the A350 to Frankfurt in mid-January, and once more airframes are delivered, the airline will fly the A350 to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States then Europe and Asia.

Al Baker says: “We don’t become the best airline In the world by standing still. We have moved the goal posts with the A350, A380, and 787. When asked about other countries and airlines objecting to Qatar’s expansion, Al Baker responded pointedly: “Airlines who have an poor product in the past now have to compete. Airlines who have minted money in the past and didn’t invest should shut down (sic).”

Mr. Akbar Al Baker remarked: “Today marks a momentous occasion in the history of our airline. Not only are we welcoming a new aircraft type into the Qatar Airways fleet, but as global launch customer for the A350 XWB, we are receiving the newest and most modern aircraft that the world will see for at least another decade.”

“With our significant order as launch customer for 80 of this aircraft type, it has enabled Airbus to create an aircraft that not only considers every aspect of passenger comfort, but also features the cutting-edge light-weight carbon composite design, which in turn allows fuel consumption and noise to be reduced, along with many other leading features.

“I am confident that with our passenger insight, the aircraft that has today been welcomed into our fleet will be the footprint for all future aircraft design, both with regard to technological advancements and the passenger journey itself.”

The Delivery

At 12:00 PM local, the delivery ceremony of the first A350 XWB started. Enjoy the slideshow from the delivery ceremony which featured a live orchestra, The Toulouse Capital Symphony, a famous Arab opera performer, and an artist producing a piece of art live. Finally, the curtains swung open revealing the start of the show: Qatar’s Airbus A350 XWB. Tuesday, we will be on the delivery flight to Doha. Stay with us for continuing coverage.

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

Stay tuned for continuous coverage of the first Airbus A350 XWB delivery. We’ll have more pictures and information from the demonstration flight and a behind the scenes tour of the Airbus A350 Final Assembly Line. Other AirwaysNews Airbus A350 XWB Stories:

EXTRA: Analysis: Japan Airlines Places Historic Order for Airbus 31 A350 XWBs: JAL’s First Airbus Order

EXTRA: Second Airbus A350 Test Aircraft Takes to Skies as Program Sales Continue to Soar

EXTRA: Airbus Gives Major A350 XWB Program Update: Rival 777X In The Crosshairs

EXTRA: ANALYSIS: Emirates Cancellation Hardly a Setback for A350

EXTRA: Report: The Launch of the A330neo Hastens the Demise of the A350-800

EXTRA: Airbus Reveals Hybrid Airbus/Qatar Livery as A350 XWB Testing Progresses

EXTRA: PHOTOS: Airbus Unveils First A350 Cabin

EXTRA: Delta Snubs Boeing Again with Airbus Widebody Aircraft Order

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Airbus provided accommodations and flights to Toulouse. Our opinions remain our own.

Chris Sloan contributed to this story from Toulouse, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Houston.

Some photos are courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/JDL Multimedia.

You can contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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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. At this time, Didier Evrard, EVP A350 XWB and Kiran Rao, EVP Strategy & Marketing, will speak. (Approximately 4:00 AM EST).

At 11:00 AM local, another press conference will take place. Akbar Al Baker–Group CEO of Qatar Airways– Tony Wood–Rolls Royce President-Aerospace–and Fabrice Brégier–thePresident and CEO Airbus–will speak and answer questions.

At 12:00 PM local, we’ll bring live coverage from the delivery ceremony when the first A350 is handed 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. On Tuesday, we will be one of the few western media outlets to be on the delivery flight to Doha. This begins at 11AM local time.

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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United Launches New Service to Santiago

By Austin Speaker / Published January 5, 2015

Passengers wait to board the flight in Houston

Images Courtesy of Austin Speaker

United Airlines launched another route to South America from its hub at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with its first flight on December 7 to the Chilean capital of Santiago.  The daily flight, flown with two-class Boeing 767-300ER, operates overnight in both directions with a ground time of approximately 13 hours in Santiago; it is unclear if United will continue flying a 767 on the route, or if it will eventually be serviced by the 787 as more airframes are delivered.IMG_4377

EXTRA: United Returns to Chile

United kindly invited AirwaysNews along for the inaugural flight in their BusinessFirst cabin. Before the flight, Chilean dancers performed at the gate, and Chilean flags adorned the bulkheads of the aircraft.

Houston United Clubs

Because we were traveling internationally in BusinessFirst, we were granted access to the United Club.  Houston has locations in every terminal, and there was a location very close to the departure gate in Terminal C North, which was where we stopped first.

This location was reasonably large, but not huge, and it was very full.  The food selections were minimal, although there was a full bar.  Having stocked up on the signature lemon cookies, we decided to search for greener pastures and the flagship United Club in Terminal E.  By the time we reached it, it was nearly time to turn around and proceed to the gate, but we took a quick spin around the three-level club to see what all the fuss was about.

To our disappointment, the only significant difference was in size.  The facilities were not any nicer, nor were the food options any more plentiful than in the smaller lounge, although there were better views of more interesting aircraft from the large windows.  Suffice to say that of the three U.S. legacy carriers’ lounges, the United Clubs are in last place, although they are among the most plentiful.  We were disappointed to find the large clubs in one of United’s major hubs to be so outdated and spare.

Outbound Flight

The first flight was generally uneventful, albeit very full.  On boarding, we were greeted by the delightful cabin crew, about whom we cannot say enough good things.  The flight pushed back nearly half an hour late, but we were airborne after a short taxi.  Within 10-15 minutes, the flight attendants were up and preparing the meal service.

IMG_4365The appetizer of seared ahi tuna was quite enjoyable, as was the beef roast main course.  The beef was cooked roughy medium and was very tender.  The mashed potatoes and green beans were also tasty.

As it was already quite late, we only made it through the entrée course before giving the lie-flat seat a try.  At 6′ 6″, the fully reclined position was a little bit of a squeeze, but the seat was just wide enough to allow sufficient contortion.  As we had a neighbor who opted to forego meal service entirely, access to the aisle also required the dreaded ‘straddle of shame.’ This is one of the major drawbacks to United’s 2-1-2 seating configuration.  Delta’s 1-2-1 option for the same aircraft type would have been much more appropriate.

Before and during dinner, we had a chance to try out the inflight entertainment system.  The screen is one of the largest we have seen (although we have not been able to find an exact measurement, it was no less than 17″ diagonally), and it was touch sensitive.  The programming available was extensive, though the interface was a little dated and laborious. There were also issues moving between video programming and the interactive moving map. Although an option to resume the video was available, it simply returned the viewer to the beginning anyway, which was a significant nuisance.

IMG_4366As we got close to Santiago, we were awakened to the breakfast service, which consisted of omelette and cereal options.  We opted for the latter, though foregoing the Chex cereal for the pastries and yogurt, which were lovely.  In fact, this was one of the best flights we had experienced from a culinary perspective.  As breakfast was cleared away and the cabin prepared for arrival, we were treated to a magnificent view of the Andes on the approach path.

The flight arrived in Santiago a few minutes early, even with the detour to the far side of the airfield for the customary water cannon salute before parking at Gate 10. On arrival, a welcoming committee several dozen strong was waiting, although they seemed a little too busy taking pictures with their cell phones to be bothered to move the jet bridge into position.

The biggest challenge on arrival was the customs and immigration process, which took more than an hour for the first passengers to disembark, and a bit longer for those behind.  Not all of the booths were occupied by immigration officers, so it is our hope that staffing levels are changed to accommodate the change to the flight schedule.

Return Flight

For outbound passengers, there are still a few kinks to be worked out.  The 767 parked at Gate 10 of the international terminal on arrivalUnited brought in staff from several stations across the United States and Latin America to train local staff.  But the computer systems were not up and running at full capacity, and a number of technical problems plagued the team, both at check-in and at the gate.  But luckily for elite fliers and BusinessFirst passengers, despite the lack of a United Club or any other Star Alliance lounge, United contracted with Delta to provide access to its SkyClub, which was virtually empty an hour before United flight boarded, as Delta’s single daily flight departed earlier.

To our surprise and delight, we boarded the return flight to find the same crew that had accompanied us to Santiago the day before, and they had clearly enjoyed their day off.  They seemed a little more relaxed this time around, perhaps because the first-flight spotlight had passed.  The menu for the flight was similar to the one on the outbound flight, but had been tweaked slightly.  This time we were able to stay awake for the cheese course, which was disappointing, as the cheese options were all relatively hard and did not provide much variety.  Dessert, true to United form, consisted of a made-to-order ice cream sundae.  It goes without saying that this was delightful—after all, who can say no to ice cream? Since we had a middle seat on the return, it was very easy to move about both aisles with relative ease.

Much like on the ground, the return flight had some technical issues in the air.  The two things that stood out were both related to the IFE system.  For the couple of hours of the flight, the reading lights in both cabins, which are controlled from the IFE system, were completely inoperable.  The purser eventually managed to reboot that portion of the system without impacting programming in progress, though an announcement was made to warn that a full reboot might be necessary.  The other, more personal issue was that our screen was damaged and had a large vertical red line running across the screen the whole flight.  This is just one piece of evidence that suggested the aircraft was getting very dated, despite periodic facelifts.

Overall Impressions

I am not completely happy with the aircraft choice for this route, or with the United BusinessFirst cabin options.  Although the single middle seats are nice, it’s a tricky proposition to be seated in the middle alone.  It feels incredibly exposed, although the misalignment of rows helps with this a bit (but not with communication with traveling companions across the aisle).  But solo travelers, who are certainly the majority in this cabin, it’s still the way to go, despite being exposed (and often bumped) on both sides.

A 1-2-1 configuration for the 767 has become fairly standard for a lie-flat business class cabin, and even many 777s, whose cabins are significantly wider, employ this same seating configuration.  The 2-1-2 version is completely out of left field, and generally unpopular with business travelers.  Unfortunately for United, this may be the lesser of two evils.

The three-class 767-300ER is configured in a 2-2-2 arrangement, the 767-400ER is in the same 2-1-2 arrangement, the 777-200 varies between 2-2-2 and an incredible (and right out) 2-4-2, and the 787-8/9 are both 2-2-2.  In essence, no matter what equipment United selects for this route from its current fleet, solo travelers will have very slim pickings aside from the possibility of GlobalFirst on certain fleet types.  If British Airways can provide direct aisle access to business class passengers with neighbors on a 747, then there’s really no reason why we continue to see configurations like United’s.

Although the outbound flight was completely full, our return flight had a full compliment of upgraded passengers in BusinessFirst, but the economy cabin was almost completely empty.  This is not encouraging for the fledgling route, which has certainly not suffered from a lack of exposure, as United has used several billboards in Houston and banners throughout Bush Intercontinental.  The load factor will have to improve greatly in order to justify the use of a 767; otherwise it may need to be downgraded to a 757, or United may upgauge another route, such as Houston-Lima, and offer an onward connection in much the same way that Continental served Santiago from Newark via Lima until 2000.

This is one of the last missing routes to South America for United BusinessFirst window seat on the 767to fill in out of its Houston hub, as the airline already serves most other major southbound routes from there.  The impetus for creating the route is likely twofold: the energy industries in Houston (as well as the rest of Texas) and Chile are closely tied, and the route will serve that community very well.

But it’s also important to note that United is faced with the impending end of its long-standing frequent flier relationship (a remnant of Continental) with Copa Airlines, which has operated connecting services to Santiago for United passengers up to this point.  Without Copa, United will be forced to service the route itself.

The Star Alliance has also lost a bit of its South American presence following the departure of TAM as part of its merger to create the LATAM Group, and United’s increased presence in the region, and particularly in one of the LATAM hubs, may help to bolster the Star Alliance’s position in advance of the expected naming of a new South American partner for the alliance.

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Contact the author at austin.speaker@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Disclosure: United provided round trip BusinessFirst tickets, accommodations, and travel expenses to Airways News at no cost.  United did not review or approve this article, and our opinions remain our own.

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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

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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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