On 18 March 2008, flight SQ308 arrived at London Heathrow from Singapore Changi airport marking the beginning of scheduled Airbus A380 flights between London Heathrow and Singapore.
It was natural that Singapore Airlines would be the first airline to fly the A380 at Heathrow. The airline had long prided itself on industry firsts and having a young fleet of aircraft. Alas, London was not the first city to be served by the Singapore Airlines A380. That honour was bestowed upon Sydney as few months earlier.
Emirates and Qantas soon followed at London Heathrow. As did Etihad, Korean Air, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Thai Airways, albeit with varying frequencies. Emirates now operates no less than 7 Airbus A380 flights from London Heathrow every day – a reflection of the changing dynamics of aviation in the past ten years.
It wasn’t until five years later did BA take delivery of the first of 12 Airbus A380s. Whilst BA’s A380s may not have the onboard bars and showers of Emirates, it is serving the airline well operating year-round on trunk routes like Hong Kong, Singapore and Johannesburg. BA is also the only airline to fly the A380 direct from London Heathrow to North America. Please see here for a full list of BA A380 routes for 2018.
The “known unknown” is whether BA will order more aircraft. That decision now rests with its parent company, International Airlines Group. IAG’s CEO Willie Walsh has long expressed an interest in leasing second-hand aircraft but nothing has come of this. An order for more aircraft may follow, but evidently not at any price.
Not all airlines have been fully committed to maintaining Airbus A380 flights at Heathrow. Malaysian has this month ended daily Airbus A380 flights. Both of its daily flights are operated with the Airbus A350. On Sunday 25 March, Qantas will switch one of its two A380 routes to a non-stop Boeing 787 Dreamliner service to Perth. Qantas is also eyeing the prospect of next-generation twin-engine aircraft flying non-stop from London to Sydney and other cities in Australia from the early 2020s.
Whilst it is highly unlikely more airlines will fly the A380 to Heathrow, the huge amount of attention given to Singapore Airlines’ launch of new First Suites last year shows that the Airbus A380 still has the capacity to turn heads. Such is the nature of airline economics the aircraft most loved by passengers are not the ones enamoured by airlines. With Emirates committing to ordering more aircraft and BA likely to keep the aircraft in service for up to 30 years, it is almost guaranteed to have a presence at the airport for decades to come.
The one airline not to take delivery of the A380 was Virgin Atlantic. It generated huge amounts of PR with its order of 6 aircraft in 2005 and promises of double beds, in-flight gyms, beauty parlours and casinos.
Without any hint of irony Sir Richard Branson quipped at the time: “To be perfectly honest, it would be quite nice if BA were to buy some A380s as well – because it would support British aerospace and it would support Europe.”
Its order was officially deferred. It wasn’t until 13 years later, last week in fact, that Virgin officially confirmed (and only after a change to the Airbus order book was spotted online) did the airline finally confirm that its order has been cancelled.