LONDON: British Airways (BA) welcomed its first Airbus A380 jet, the world's biggest commercial aircraft, part of a $15 billion upgrade to top-of-the-range planes that will help cut fuel bills and give the airline a boost in the lucrative long-haul business travel market.
The emergence of the fuel-efficient double-decker through the grey clouds over Heathrow airport in west London yesterday, was greeted by hundreds of BA staff and spectators, a boon to a group that has been weighed down by its ageing fleet.
The plane touched down on time and taxied into a hangar near Heathrow terminal five, met by cabin crew in uniform waving British flags. The first long-haul flight on the A380 will run to Los Angeles on September 24, the airline said, slightly earlier than the originally planned October start.
"These aircraft are the start of a new era for British Airways," said chief executive Keith Williams, noting the British flag carrier hadn't had any new long-haul aircraft for 17 years.
Williams said the A380 was at least 15 per cent more fuel- efficient than the planes it was replacing. So along with new planes it is buying from Airbus rival Boeing, he expects to save at least £100 million ($152.6m) from the airline's annual fuel bill of up to £4bn, by 2017.
BA, which was due to receive its first A380 a year ago but deferred delivery amid the 2009 banking crisis, is catching up rivals such as Emirates and Lufthansa that have flown A380s for years. Over the next 15 months, BA will take delivery of new aircraft at the rate of one a fortnight.
BA's ageing long-haul fleet has put it at a "cost and quality" disadvantage to rivals, which run newer, more cost-effective planes that are also more comfortable and better equipped, Davy analyst Stephen Furlong said.
BA, part of IAG, received the first of its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners last month, making it the first airline in Europe to fly both new planes once commercial operations begin.
The aircraft are the centrepiece of a 10-year upgrade to BA's long-haul fleet, which will enable it to retire older, more fuel hungry Boeing 747-400 jumbos and shake up its network.