Remembering the First Airbus A-380 Arrival at KJFK
Airbus’s A-380 super-sized airliner was launched at the end of the year 2000. A little more than four years later, the first flight of a prototype occurred, on April 27, 2005. European and U.S. type certification occurred some twenty months after the first flight. Before scheduled airline service would begin, a series of trial flights were made to the United States. The first two of these would simultaneously occur on March 19, 2007. Although an A-380 had landed in North America before this March date, it was flown to northern Canada for cold weather testing, and not one had ever touched down in the U.S. prior to this March date.
One flight would depart using an Airbus developmental aircraft, and be operated entirely by a Lufthansa crew with Airbus, vendors and VIPs aboard. The flight would operate from Frankfurt, Germany to New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The second flight would operate from Toulouse, France (an Airbus manufacturing center) to the Los Angeles International Airport, this time with only a QANTAS crew and a few airline engineers aboard. The pair were flight planned to touch down at their respective airports at the same time in America during the morning.
I was lucky enough to cover the New York City arrival that day as a media representative. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey pulled out all of the stops for media reps, as this event would usher in the next big trend in commercial air travel, the Super Jumbo jet. For the first time since the September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks in New York City, non TSA-cleared civilians were allowed onto the JFK airport ramp – bussed to a great vantage point alongside the landing runway. Between a small group of ground escorts consisting of Port Authority media representatives and police, a much larger group of writers, photographers, and radio and television crews set up on an adjacent taxiway on that crisp March morning.
APort Authority representative announced that the aircraft would appear to the east shortly, and all eyes strained to see the big jet through the late morning haze. After a couple of false alarms that turned out to be U.S. flag carriers, sure enough, the white and blue jet came into view. An excited Port Authority representative declared that New York’s A-380 would touch down first, as the Los Angeles aircraft was running minutes late due to headwinds on the longer flight route.
The big jet floated onto the JFK runway, and turned off in time to be able to taxi past our throng of reporters, with flags flying from open cockpit windows. After the jet disappeared behind a terminal, we re-boarded our busses and were driven to an airport briefing lounge, where Airbus, Lufthansa, and Port Authority officials spoke to the media. The Lufthansa crew lined the railings above the speakers, looking sharp after their six-plus hour flight.
Lter that afternoon, we were given a tour of the interior of the aircraft, which was decked out with an Airbus-designed cabin arrangement which featured all Business Class seats on the top deck, a classy stairway between both floors fore and aft, a wet bar, and both First Class and Economy class seating below. In the cockpit, the instruments were all powered up, including the aircraft’s remote television monitor screen that added a great amount of situational awareness for the crew.
It was quite a day for the JFK airport and the NY/NJ Port Authority, as well as for Airbus and Lufthansa. They welcomed a new dynamic in air travel for the first time in the U.S., and I was lucky to have been able to take part in it.
Afterthoughts… Amazingly, a little more than thirteen years after this first U.S. arrival, the Airbus A-380 has fallen onto hard times. Orders for the Super Jumbo airliner didn’t materialize like Airbus thought they would. A planned freighter version of the jet was axed. The sheer size of the jet presented operational difficulties that were soon overcome, but the crush of multiple 550-passenger jets arriving at the same time put pressure on airport Customs operations and ground support. The economy of the heavy four-engined jet wasn’t up to that of the newest twin-engined airliners like Airbus’s A-350 and Boeing’s B-787. With the worldwide slowdown of air travel due to the COVID-19 virus, almost all of the world’s fleet of A-380s, well over one hundred of them, were parked and stored in various airports… many identified to never again fly in revenue service. Like the Anglo-French Concorde, not many were built, and both types seem to have been retired due to their economics. It remains to be seen how many A-380s will return to the skies after the volume of air passengers rises to previous levels.