Big plane, big plans

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There’s no denying that Airbus’ double-decker A380, which began commercial flights this past October, marks a significant milestone in commercial flight.

To celebrate delivery of the first A380 to Singapore Airlines, Airbus hosted a lavish ceremony at its Toulouse, France delivery center on October 15. During the event, Airbus CEO Thomas Enders called the A380 the “defining aircraft of our generation” and said it represented a coming of age for the company. “The industry will come to see that this plane is not a luxury, but a necessity,” he told the crowd of 500 journalists and employees.

One of the A380′s most obvious differentiators is its size. The plane is over 79 feet high, with a fuselage diameter of 23 feet, and a tip-to-tip wingspan of nearly 263 feet. (The Boeing 747-400, in contrast, has a height of around 63 feet, a 20-foot diameter fuselage, and a wingspan of 211 feet.)

Airbus markets the A380 as seating 525 passengers, and the plane can be configured to carry up to 800, but Singapore is outfitting its A380s with 471 seats – a deliberate decision to offer passengers in all cabins more space. “We wanted to give people room to do things,” says Singapore’s vice president of product innovation, Sim Kim Chui. “This is what they told us they wanted and needed.”

The airline has invested especially heavily in a new top-tier product it calls Singapore Airlines Suites, which it’s offering in place of standard first class on the A380. Designed by French yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, the suites are just that – individual private compartments separated by high walls and sliding glass doors.

Each suite contains a fully adjustable leather seat, a separate full-sized flat bed with mattress, a table that can be adjusted to function as a work desk, meeting table or dining area, and a 23-inch wall mounted video monitor. Located in the front of aircraft on the main deck, the 12 suites (eight singles, and four where shared walls can be removed to create double suites) are priced approximately 25 percent above first class. A Sydney–Singapore roundtrip in an A380 suite prices out at $7,524, versus $5,235 flying the same route in a Singapore 747 first-class seat.

The A380′s business-class product is modeled on one that Singapore has already rolled out on its 777-300ER fleet, and offers fully-flat seats with back shells that can be extended for privacy, enhanced under-seat stowage, and a height-adjustable dining table. In economy, Singapore is offering roomier seats, enhanced menus, in-seat power ports, and better lighting.

These showy innovations are no doubt intended to reinforce Singapore’s position as a top-tier airline at a time when carriers like Emirates are competing aggressively for premium passengers, but the airline’s executives insist that filling the plane with perks just for bragging rights would be missing the point.

“When the A380 was being developed, there was talk of on-board gyms and shopping malls,” says Sim Kim Chui. “These are interesting ideas, but we found that what passengers really want is the space to be productive, rested, and relaxed. That’s their priority, and it was ours as we developed the inflight experience.”

Singapore has placed its first A380 on the busy Singapore–Sydney route (the maiden flight raised over $1.5 million for charity), and plans to deploy the next on one of its three daily Singapore–London/Heathrow flights. “We’re excited to have received our first A380, and looking forward to the next 18,” says the airline’s CEO, Chew Choon Seng. “It’s a proud occasion for us, and a new chapter in the history of aviation.”

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