LONDON — On July 4, 2013, British Airways debuted the future of its fleet by making a rare, if not unprecedented move. Two new airliners, the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 were introduced simultaneously at a special ceremony for media and dignitaries at London’s Heathrow Airport. Not only are both aircraft being delivered and unveiled at the same time, but British Airways will be the first airline to operate and take delivery of both the A380 and 787 in a single fleet. These 2 aircraft mark the beginning of a $7.5 billion fleet renewal by BA over the next 5 years. Airchive was invited to London by British Airways to document this incredibly unique occasion, being among the first members of the public to view the interiors of these aircraft.
A Look Back at BA’s “Firsts”
British Airways continues its long history of being at the forefront of innovation within commercial aviation including the De Havilland Comet, the first commercial jetliner. BOAC (later British Airways) began service with the Comet in 1952. An unfortunate series of three highly publicized Comet crashes were blamed on metal fatigue which resulted from the design and installation methodologies of the square windows on the fuselage. The Comet was pulled from service, and redesigned to include oval windows (among other improvements) which are now common on commercial jets. Later versions of the Comet included a higher passenger capacity and a switch from De Havilland to Rolls Royce engines, which offered better fuel efficiency and range. In total, 114 Comets were built.
British engineering also gave us the Vickers VC-10, first flown by BOAC (later British Airways) in 1964. The aircraft still holds the subsonic trans-Atlantic crossing (new York to London) record for an airliner. Only the Concorde has flown the route faster in commercial service, but at supersonic speed. A few VC-10s are still in service with the Royal Air Force as aerial refueling tankers, but are due to be retired this year. 54 VC-10s were built between 1962 and 1970.
Like the ocean liners of the early 20th century, the need for trans-Atlantic speed was a catalyst for innovation. The Concorde, built in partnership and under treaty between British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aerospatiale of France. During the testing period and sales tours, the oil crisis of 1973 put a damper on sales because it only achieved 15.8 passenger miles per gallon, in comparison with 33.3 from Boeing’s 707. Only Twenty Concordes were built, with 14 entering service primarily with Air France and British Airways, though a couple were briefly leased by Braniff and Singapore Airlines. Entering service in 1976 with a cruising speed of mach 2.02 and a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, the Concorde could cross the Atlantic in half the time of normal airliners. It symbolized the epitome of luxury and excess until its retirement in 2003, much to the dismay of aviation geeks worldwide.
BA’s Long-Haul Fleet Renewal Begins With 787 and A380
British Airways received its first 787 (G-ZBJB) on June 27, followed by the second (G-ZBJA) on June 30. The first A380 in the fleet (G-XLEA) made an appearance at the Paris Air Show with an impressive display flight, but was officially delivered from Airbus in Toulouse at 10:30AM local time.
British Airways 787 Promotional Video
While becoming the 2nd 787 operator in the UK (after Thomson) and 4th in Europe (along with Lot, Norwegian, and Thomson), BA has announced that the 787 will conduct training runs to Stockholm, then begin service on September 1st between London Heathrow and Toronto, followed by Heathrow to Newark on October 1st. BA will use the 787-8 and 787-9 to replace the older 767-300s. The 787-10 will replace older 777-200s. The two 787-800s delivered thus far are the first of 24 787 orders on the books for BA, including all three variants (-8, -9, and -10). IAG has also announced recently that it will convert 18 787 options to firm orders for British Airways. Special introductory fares have been posted, for as low as $787 for their World Traveler (economy), $1290 for World Traveler Plus (premium economy) and $2787 for Club World (business class).
The 787 also boasts noise-reducing engine nacelles that make the flight quieter both inside and out. Two Rolls Royce Trent 1,000 engines power BA’s 787. In addition, the 787 has a higher cabin humidity and lower air pressurization which will passengers hydrated and should help negate the effects of jet lag.
The “Very British” BA A380 Arrives
British Airways is the first UK carrier with the Airbus A380. There were 50 VIPs onboard, including Ray Massey of “The Daily Mail” who captured these thoughts of the delivery flight from Toulouse. ” ‘You’ve never seen a bigger smile on the face of a captain’, said the relieved skipper of British Airways’ new superjumbo over the speakers as he set down the wheels of the 575 ton leviathan on Heathrow’s hallowed tarmac with a touch as light as a feather.
Captain James Basnett landed BA’s new double-decker Airbus A380 – flight BA 9158P for positioning flight- touching down bang on time at 10.30am after a smooth and eerily quiet one and a half hour flight from the Airbus factory in Toulouse.
No pressure. But aboard the £270million plane with the call sign Speedbird 380 he did have his boss and fifty VIP passengers plus a few journalists like me, scrutinising his every move.
There were cheers on board as the wheels hit the ground without a bump. And even louder cheers from outside when 380 BA staff welcomed the plane to its new UK hangar.”
British Airways is bringing the Airbus A380 into the fleet to replace its Boeing 747-400s, of which they have the largest remaining fleet in the industry. Boeing’s 777-300ER and future deliveries of Airbus A350-1000 will also be used to supplement 747-400 fleet retirement. Currently the airline has 12 firm orders for the A380, plus 7 options. 3 will arrive this year followed by another 5 in 2014. Reportedly the airline had to raise the roof of its hangers by 12 feet to accommodate the A380.
An A380 in British Airways colors is significant as key components such as the Rolls-Royce Trent engines and the wings are manufactured in the UK, meaning about a third of the aircraft’s value is built in the country.
Savvy travelers should note that Seat 25D on BA’s World Traveler class has double the leg room! This is due to an escape hatch from the crew rest compartment below.
British Airways Airbus A380 Promotional Video
The additional seating capacity will allow the airline to grow in key markets while operating from slot-controlled London Heathrow. BA has also disclosed it will be used for crew training on flights to Frankfurt, then inaugurate service from Heathrow to Los Angeles on September 24th, followed by Heathrow to Hong Kong on October 22nd and Miami before the end of the year. On Monday July 8th, BA will run a full on-the-ground 11 hour long-haul training exercise to test all systems and cabin service with a full plane of staff. Notably, the A380 will be the first Airbus widebody to join the BA fleet. The airline also announced an order for the top-of-the-range A350-1000 at the recent 2013 Paris Air Show.
As with the BA 787, Rolls Royce will power the A380 with four of its Trent 900 engines. Seating only 469 passengers (less than other A380s), the 14 First Class seats will be on the lower deck, with 97 in Club World, 55 in World Traveler Plus (only on the upper deck), and 303 in World Traveler. The Club World and World Traveler seats are distributed about equally between the upper and lower decks. All seats will have on-demand audio and video options. The A380 first-class passengers will enjoy nightwear, a turndown service, fine dining, a champagne supper and 15-inch entertainment screens.
BA also notes that the A380 is 50 percent quieter on takeoff than the Boeing 747-400, of which the airline owns the largest fleet in operation. For the A380 (the 106th delivered), BA becomes the third airline in Europe (after Lufthansa & Air France) to add it to the fleet. Keith Williams, British Airways’ CEO, said: “The A380 is a fantastic aircraft and an excellent showpiece for British engineering. Our customers are going to love the space, light and comfort on board.”
Video of first BA A380 touching down at London Heathrow from Airbus
These fleet additions should give British Airways cost and efficiency advantages over their rival competitor Virgin Atlantic, who has deferred their deliveries for both the 787 and A380. Virgin Atlantic recently had a 49% stake in the airline purchased by US-based Delta Airlines, which similarly does not operate either the 787 or A380.