This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
British Airways was certainly late to the Airbus A380 party.
It was 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.
Singapore Airlines has always prided itself on industry firsts, so it was natural that it would be the first airline to operate the aircraft.
Emirates and Qantas soon followed at London Heathrow. As did Etihad, Korean Air, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar Airways and Thai Airways.
It wasn’t until five years later in 2013 did BA take delivery of the first of 12 Airbus A380 aircraft. This was of course the first long-haul aircraft BA ordered from Airbus.
The aircraft now operates year-round from London Heathrow to Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore and Washington Dulles. It also operates on a seasonal basis to Boston, Chicago and Vancouver.
It’s a relatively small fleet compared to the Boeing 787 and 777, but it’s a popular aircraft with passengers, particularly for its First Class cabin. World Traveller Plus and World Traveller are also relatively comfortable compared to other aircraft.
Ever since BA took delivery of the aircraft there had been speculation whether it would order more. That has now been settled. Its options to acquire seven more new aircraft have expired. It had explored leasing second-hand aircraft but the costs of conversion are considered too high.
Whilst BA was one of the last airlines to take delivery of the A380, it is perfectly feasible that, along with Emirates, BA may be one of the last operators of the aircraft.
Air France has chosen to retire its fleet early, rather than refurbish aircraft. Lufthansa is to also hand back aircraft to Airbus. Many airlines such as Malaysia Airlines and Qantas have reduced Airbus A380 services to Heathrow. Qantas clearly now has other priorities, with ultra long-range aircraft. Airbus confirmed earlier this year that it is to end production of the aircraft in 2021 after Emirates decided to reduce its outstanding orders.
The launch of the aircraft, dubbed a “flying hotel” at the time, generated a huge amount of hype. And this is one where BA can claim to have got one over Virgin Atlantic. Virgin generated a huge amount of PR with an order of 6 aircraft in 2000 and promises of childrens’ play areas, gyms, showers and games arcades.
Without any hint of irony Sir Richard Branson quipped in 2005: “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.”
Last year, Virgin finally cancelled its entire A380 order.