10 years ago today, I was sitting on a news desk sorting through footage of the daily news when footage of the first commerical flight of the world’s first superjumbo, the Airbus A380, came in.
It was a momentous occasion. The footage showed the pre-flight preparations at Singapore’s Changi Airport, the excited passengers boarding the plane for the first time, followed by the arrival of the huge plane in Sydney a few hours later.
I knew very little about the world of aviation at the time, I was amazed by planes and knew that I was flying in a fair amout of 777’s, but this was different. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the huge bird taxiing down the runway, the A380 was so different from other aircraft, with it’s huge wings, four engines and full-length double-deck cabin.
[Photo by Wasim Z of WisosAviation]
I remember watching the footage and being surprised that Singapore Airlines was the first airline to fly it – not Qantas or KLM or BA – but Singapore Airlines, an airline I’d never heard of, from a country I knew nothing about – oh how times have changed!
Being the geek I was, I immediatley read up on the plane, became obsessed with it and vowed to fly one as soon as I had an opportunity to. It was a tough feat, the A380 was usually only used on long-haul routes. Because of the sheer size of the plane, it was hard to find airports that could accomodate it. Up until today, only 13 airlines have the A380 as part of their fleet and many airports have not expanded to meet size demands, meaning restrictions in which cities it flies to.
Almost 9 years to the week of the A380’s first commercial flight, In October 2017, I boarded the superjumbo for the first time and it happened to be on the very same airline that flew it first. And boy, did it not dissapoint!
For a good part of the duration of the 13.5 hour flight from London to Singapore, Mr H and I noted every detail. There was a noticeable lack of cabin pressure, the plane was so much quieter than any other plane we’d flown on, many of the annoying noises and feelings you get when flying for an extended period just didn’t seem to be there. The cabin was flooded with light despite having lower celings on the upper deck. It was our first long-long-haul flight, but it flew by, all thanks to the plane we were flying on (and the exceptional Singapore Airlines service!)
I’m often asked what makes it so special so I thought we could celebrate the A380’s birthday with a few facts:
- It’s the world’s biggest commercial airliner – able to accommodate up to 853 passengers and is the only plane in the world with two full-length decks. The wings of the A380 come in at 79m in wingspan – large enough to park 140 cars!
- It was the first commercial aircraft to have a body made of lightweight carbon-fibre, making it lighter, more economical to fly with a lot less cabin pressure and noise!
- It was groundbreaking engineering that built it. There were so many “first times” with this aircraft, the A380 was designed to be different to anything that came before it. The sheer size of the plane meant more need for innovation to ensure it could fly. The wings were developed after an extensive study of bird wings, the use of carbon fibre gave it better chances at staying airborne.
- It was a secret project at first. The first few years of development were a big secret at Airbus. Engineers met in an abandoned building and kept tight lipped to ensure competitors (mainly Boeing) didn’t catch wind of the plane that was about to challenge the 747 as the largest commercial aircraft. Eventually Boeing found out and quickly got to work on building a larger version of the 747. This was a major setback for Airbus engineers who had worked tirelessly to bring the A380 to fruitation. A few years later Boeing scrapped the larger 747 plans and released a report indicating the future of aviation would focus on smaller planes as opposed to superjumbos (jealous much?)
- The sheer size of the plane meant large pieces of the plane had to be transported by land, air and sea from factories in the UK, Germany and Spain to reach the assembley point in France. A truly European effort!
- To pass safety tests and be allowed to fly, 873 “passengers” had to be able to evacuate through 8 of the 16 exits in no more than 90 seconds. They managed to evacuate in just 78 seconds![Photo by Wasim Z]
There are so many things that I love about the A380, so many things that make it my favourite plane in the skies (sorry 747 fans!) but regardless of my own bias, the Airbus A380 will forever remain an important part of aviation history. I look forward to the day I am able to fly on it again.
Huge thanks to Wasim Z (@wisosaviation) for the photos of the SQ A380 coming in to land at Heathrow – if you’re an avgeek be sure to follow him for great shots!