World’s Largest Passenger Jet Makes U.S. Debut

Aug 1, 2008 12:41pm

ABC News’ Scott Mayerowitz reports: Some of my earliest childhood memories involve my tiny face pressed up against the inside of an airplane, looking down at the passing land below. While flying these days is often a hassle with long lines, frustrating security and a complete lack of service, there is still that little kid in me pressed up against the window. Today that little kid got a big treat: A close look at the first U.S. landing of the A380, the world’s largest commercial airplane. The double-decker plane flown by Emirates Airlines touched down at New York’s JFK airport at 4:29 p.m.. Crowd of reporters and VIPs cheered and then eagerly waited as the mammoth plane taxied to the terminal.

More than 70 ground crew were on hand to quickly unload and then reload the plane for its return to Dubai. Many had cell phone cameras out to capture the moment.

The plane was escorted in by police cars and dwarfed everything along its way. The A380 was also greeted by two airport firetrucks with water cannons that gave it a ceremonial wash. The A380 is unlike any other plane before. The average first class ticket on the route goes for $14,635, business for $9,571 and coach for $1,477. While that is the same as the service on the airline’s Boeing 777 routes, there are substantially more of these high-end seats to sell.
The four-engine jumbo jet can carry up to 850 passengers, although most airlines plan to fly closer to 500. The plane put an end to the Boeing 747′s astonishing 40-year reign as the world’s largest passenger jetliner.   Emirates configured its A380 for 489 passengers. Most are in coach but there are 76 business-class seats and 14 private suites in first-class with electronic doors for privacy. They also get showers, their own mini-bar, a 23-inch high-definition TV screen, your own wardrobe and meals on demand. Singapore Airlines was the first to fly the A380, launching service in October. It now flies the planes between Singapore and London and Sydney and Tokyo. Dubai-based Emirates is the second to fly the jet, but the largest of Airbus’ 17 customers. By the way, not one of them is an American airline. The jet is meant to carry large groups of people on very long trips. Emirates currently runs two daily nonstop flights from New York to Dubai on Boeing 777s. One of those jets will be replaced on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with the larger A380. With oil prices near record highs, the A380 also offers airlines a bit of much-needed relief. “The A380 is about 15-20 percent more efficient on a seat-mile cost than any civil aircraft flying at the moment. The fuel consumption is very low,” Nigel Page, senior vice president of commercial operations for Emirates in the Americas, told me. He said that given the number of people it can transport, it is actually more efficient than the Toyota Prius hybrid. Maybe, but remember the Prius doesn’t seat 500. Emirates will also be able to charge more for flights on the A380. Mann said that Singapore Airlines already charges 15-20 percent more for flights on the A380. Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y., told me not to expect the plane on U.S. routes. Simply put: American fliers like frequent service between their cities and airlines would basically have to replace three flights on smaller jets with one on the A380. “The last 30 years of route development, subsequent to deregulation, has been frequency, frequency, frequency,” Mann said. “That’s what you want and that’s means smaller and smaller aircraft size.”

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