Double-decker passenger Airbus 380 is no plain plane

Trends

August 13, 2006|By MARY ANN ANDERSON | MARY ANN ANDERSON,MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

Elvis has not yet left the building.

But when he does, our way of thinking about the world of aviation will change as we're propelled even further into the 21st century.

Elvis is the nickname I've given to the new Airbus 380, the world's largest, first-ever fully double-decker passenger plane now being built at Airbus' factory in the quiet countryside of Toulouse, France.

As Elvis was known as the "King of Rock 'N' Roll," the A380 will indisputably be crowned the "King of Aviation" when it rolls off the assembly line later this year and is readied for passenger service.

Without a doubt, the A380 -- call it what you want -- will usher in an era of air travel when Singapore Airlines becomes the first to fly the "king"-sized airplane from London to Singapore to Sydney on the "Kangaroo Route," perhaps as early as December.

The nearly mythical A380, a long time in the making and unmatched in terms of its size and capacity, is powered by four colossal Rolls-Royce Trent 900 titanium engines so big that you can practically drive a herd of cattle into them. Besides being the world's largest passenger airplane, it also has the widest aircraft fuselage in the industry. While its length is about 240 feet, its wingspan is an astounding, almost disproportional, 262 feet.

The wings, which are built in Wales and shipped to Toulouse by waterway, have no equal in the airline industry. They are so immense, in fact, that about 2,800 people can stand under them in a rain shower and not get wet. Now that's a heck of an umbrella.

The A380, which can fly nonstop for about 8,000 nautical miles, accommodates 555 seats in a three-class configuration of coach, business and first. But Singapore Airlines, one of the airlines whom Airbus first courted for the A380 because it is one of the most successful airlines in the world in terms of dollars, style and elegance, and customer satisfaction, will seat fewer than 480 passengers in the same layout. Some airlines are even considering a full economy class configuration of up to 853 seats, a number that boggles the mind.

But for Singapore Airlines passengers who want to pay the price for premium seating, its A380 first-class cabin promises to be totally luxurious with niceties that may include small, private bedrooms; mood lighting; and even plush sitting areas.

Even those who have been in aviation for a long time are impressed by what the A380 has going for itself. Singapore Airlines spokesman James Boyd, who admits to having been in the industry for many years, touts, "This aircraft presents a great opportunity to completely rethink and redesign the in-flight experience, starting with our customers' feedback and a blank sheet of paper. It will offer substantial savings in terms of operating costs and the most comfortable, spacious flying experience yet."

Like Airbus, Singapore Airlines has always been a trendsetter. The airline was the first to offer headsets, a choice of meals and free drinks in economy class, and it was also the first to operate a commercial flight across the Pacific. For in-flight entertainment, Singapore Airlines wins hands-

down, as it offered revolutionary gizmos like "on demand" audio and video and KrisFone, the first global sky telephone service, before any other airline.

Singapore Airlines and Airbus have been courtin' for quite a while, not only with the A380, but also the ultra long-haul A340. In 2004, Singapore Airlines offered the world's longest nonstop airline flight on the A340 between Singapore and Los Angeles, and then surpassed itself later that year with even longer A340 nonstop flights between New York- Newark and Singapore.

But back to the A380. Here are a few fun statistics about the aircraft, courtesy of Singapore Airlines:

It would take 4.5 million tennis balls to equal the volume of the three decks of the A380, comprising two passenger decks and the bottom deck of cargo.

The measurement from the ground to the upper tip of the tail, the highest point on the A380, is almost 80 feet high, about the same height of five adult giraffes stacked vertically atop one another.

The A380 engine takeoff thrust across the wings equals the horsepower of around 2,500 family cars at up to 110 hp each. Vroom, vroom!

The air intake of the Rolls-

Royce engines is about 1.25 tons of air per second. By the time it shoots out of the nozzle at the rear of the engine, it has been accelerated to nearly 1,000 miles per hour ("Think of it as a big hairdryer," says Rolls-Royce engineer Peter King).

In the simplest terms, all Airbus did was build a bigger and better mousetrap than what was already available in the aviation market. Yes, it's still an airplane, even though its price tag begins at about $300 million, but it is still one that is much improved upon from earlier models.

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