Now, I am not quite like some of my colleagues who purposefully schedule long layovers so they can go plane spotting at the airport. But I was totally impressed by my visit to the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France last month. They are constructing the first fleet of double decker airplanes that will be in operation sometime next year.
This airplane has the capacity to fit 555 passengers (the next largest in the Airbus line, the A330, can hold about 380) and travel 15,000 KM. It is HUGE. 22 wheels, 16 exit doors. Emirates Airlines bought the first off the block, 45 of them (!) for their long-haul flights. The A380 was one of the highlights in the Dubai Airshow last month for its debut appearance in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
Parts of the plane are being designed all over Europe, and then assembled at the Airbus factory in Toulouse. Check out the nose having a scenic tour of Dresden, Germany on its way to France:
The purchasing airlines will have final say as to how to design the interior. Ideal configuration would be seats in a 2-4-2 in coach and 2-2-2 in business and first class. Some airlines have plans to add lounges and/or bars onto the optional lower deck. (I vote for a spa!).
So, the planes are already made, what are we waiting for? Airbus still needs to pass some tests in order to be cleared for comercial take off. They need to be able to evacuate all 555 passengers from 16 exit doors in 90 seconds. They also need to be tested at certain airports, since not all airports will have the facilities to manage such a large plane. They need adequate runways and gates with 2 jetways for boarding and deplaning. Major world hubs already geared up to welcome the A380 include Frankfurt, Singapore and Melbourne. By 2006, 20 airports will be ready for the A380 including Paris CDG, Dubai, New York JFK, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and Sydney. By 2008, 38 airports will be ready and 60 by 2010.
Here's an amazing tidbit of information for you. The cost per seat to operate a flight on an Airbus is 15-20% lower than a Boeing 747. Why? This plane is more fuel effecient. The A380 burns 12% less fuel per seat than it's competitor. It also has a quicker turn around/processing time at the airports because they have cut out the choke points (ok, I don't know what that is, but it sounds good). Finally, this airplane won't make the ruckus of its rivals. They project that the plane makes half the noise of other long haul models. That's good news for everyone.
I heard a rumor that Airbus wanted to make the plane even bigger, but no airline would purchase them. If there were to be a crash, the potential casulty list would be too much of a liability.
So, given all my enthusiasm, you'd think that I can't wait to buckle myself in. Nope! I think the technology that makes this possible is pretty damn cool. But I still don't like to fly. Unless I get to sit in this seat:
Pretty sweet, huh?