With 455 passengers, some of whom paid tens of thousands of dollars for a seat in aviation history, the superjumbo left Singapore at 8:16 a.m. and landed about seven hours later in Sydney. Also on board flight SQ380 were a crew of about 30, including four pilots.
Passengers clapped as the plane left the gate on schedule and taxied to the runway that was widened and lengthened to accommodate the plane. More cheers broke out 16 minutes later as the double-decker aircraft, powered by four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, lifted smoothly 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."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.
Also among the passengers was Swedish electronics engineer Ralf Danielsson, 58, who took the first Concorde flight in 1979. "Twenty-eight years later, I thought it would be fun to do something like that again," he said.
The A380 ends the nearly 37-year reign of the U.S.-made Boeing 747 jumbo jet 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. He said the A380 is "the first totally new big aircraft to be designed and built since the Boeing 747" nearly four decades ago.
Chew, flanked by two flight attendants, greeted passengers with a smile and a nod as they boarded the aircraft, which is as tall as a seven-story building. Each wing is big enough to hold about 70 mid-sized cars.
The Boeing 747 jumbo jet generally carries about 500 passengers. But the A380 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.
After a long-delayed production process, Singapore Airlines took delivery of its first superjumbo on Monday, Oct. 15, 18 months late. Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Chew Choon Seng said it was "well worth the wait." The airline plans to add 18 A380s to its fleet over the next four years.
On the upper deck, business class seats can turn into wide, flat beds, while the economy-class seats on both decks have more leg and knee room, the carrier says. Business-class passengers also have a bar area.
Francis Wu, a student from San Francisco who turned 22 on the flight, was updating his journal on the in-flight computer system when airline crew surprised him with a white chocolate cake and a song.
"This is the best birthday I have ever had in my whole life," he said.
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.
"At the moment, some passengers are having difficulty booking flights on those sectors because there isn’t enough capacity," said Leithen Francis, the Singapore-based deputy Asia editor of Air Transport Intelligence, an aviation market information service.
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 in August 2008.
Still, not all analysts are convinced that the plane, which has a list price of $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.
He 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.