Video: Airbus A380 lands safely

updated 10/25/2007 11:22:59 AM ET 2007-10-25T15:22:59

A Singapore Airlines A380 on Thursday completed a long-delayed historic journey — the first commercial flight by the world's largest jetliner that boasts luxurious suites, double beds and the quietest interior of any plane.

With 455 passengers and a crew of about 30 including pilots, the Airbus superjumbo lifted off safely from Singapore's Changi Airport. About seven hours later, it landed in Sydney.

Before take off, passengers clapped as the plane disengaged from the dock on schedule at 8 a.m. and taxied to the runway that was widened and lengthened to accommodate the huge wingspan.

More cheers broke out 16 minutes later as the double-decker aircraft, powered by four Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines, soared into the nearly cloudless sky, tinged pink by the light of the early morning sun.

Flight attendants handed out champagne and certificates to passengers, some of whom paid tens of thousands of dollars in an online auction for the seats to be part of aviation history.

"I have never been in anything like this in the air before in my life," said Australian Tony Elwood, reclining with his wife, Julie, on the double bed in their private first class suite.

"It is going to make everything else after this simply awful," he said, sipping Dom Perignon rose after a lunch of marinated lobster and double boiled chicken soup. He paid $50,000 for the two places.

'Milestone in the timeline of aviation'
The double-decker A380 ends the nearly 37-year reign of the Boeing 747 jumbojet as the world's most spacious passenger plane. The A380 is also the most fuel efficient and quietest passenger jet ever built, from inside and outside, according to its European manufacturer, Airbus SAS.

It was delivered to Singapore Airlines on Oct. 15, nearly two years behind schedule after billions of dollars in cost overruns for Airbus. Still, the wait was worth it, says Singapore Airlines, which got the exclusivity of being the plane's sole operator for 10 months.

"This is indeed a new milestone in the timeline of aviation," said Chew Choon Seng, chief executive of Singapore Airlines, or SIA, in a speech before the departure.

The Boeing 747 jumbo jet generally carries about 400 passengers. The A380 — as tall as a seven-story building with each wing big enough to hold 70 cars — is capable of carrying 853 passengers in an all-economy class configuration.

However, Singapore Airlines, recognized as one of the best in the world, opted for 471 seats in three classes — 12 Singapore Airlines Suites, 60 business class and 399 economy class.

Each suite, enclosed by sliding doors, is fitted with a leather upholstered seat, a table, a 23-inch (58-centimeter) flat screen TV, laptop connections and a range of office software. A separate bed folds up into the wall. Two of the suites can be joined to provide double beds, one of which the Elwoods occupied.

On the upper deck, business class seats can turn into wide flat beds, while the economy class seats on both decks will enjoy more leg and knee room, the carrier says. Business class passengers also have a bar area.

Festive atmosphere
Francis Wu, a San Francisco student who turned 22 on the flight, was updating his journal on the inflight computer system when airline crew surprised him with a white chocolate cake and a song.

"This is the best birthday I have had in my whole life," he said.

Wu was not the only one celebrating. The entire flight was alive with a festive atmosphere with passengers lining up to get autographs from chief pilot Robert Ting, who came out of the cockpit.

"Not even three or four years ago had I dreamed of flying this airplane. So this is a blessing that I am flying it today," Ting said.

Some 70 media personnel including TV crews were on board, causing traffic jams in the aisles while trying to interview passengers, as flight attendants tried to squeeze past.

But ever smiling, they willingly obliged to incessant photo requests with a pose.

SIA auctioned most of the seats on the inaugural flight on eBay, raising $1.26 million for charity. The highest bidder was Briton Julian Hayward who bought two suite seats for $100,380. He was the first passenger to board.

Officials said the aircraft carried 455 passengers including 11 in the suites. One suite was left empty for display.

Analysts say that with about 70 more seats than the 747, the A380 is set to provide much needed extra capacity and greater efficiency for SIA on the busy Singapore-Sydney route, and the Singapore-London route expected to start in February with the delivery of the second plane.

SIA has ordered a total of 19 A380s, hoping to benefit from a recent boom in air travel that has seen global air traffic growing 5 to 10 percent a year.

Dubai-based Emirates, Airbus' largest A380 customer with 55 on order, will take its first delivery only in August 2008.

Will it be a success?
Still, not all analysts are convinced that the plane, which has a list price of US$320 million will be a success.

"I see there's some demand for the A380, but it's an expensive way to address a small market," said Standard & Poor's Equity Research analyst Shukor Yusof.

Shukor said the market was set to be dominated by mid-sized, long haul two-engine aircraft such as the rival Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which offers greater fuel efficiency than four-engine jets of the same size.

He pointed out that orders for the 787 have exceeded 700. The A380 has received 165 orders to date.

Shukor noted that Singapore Airlines renews its fleet frequently to maintain an average age of about six years. Once the planes are older than six years, Singapore Airlines might have trouble selling them, he said.

"What would happen if the plane didn't meet their expectations, say, in a year? Would SIA be tempted to sell it? What is the secondary value of the plane? It has not been commercially tested yet," Shukor said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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