All photos by Chantelle D’mello
The world’s largest passenger aircraft was officially welcomed into the Qatar Airways fleet yesterday, during a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance.
During last night’s press event, CEO Akbar Al Baker said:
“It (the aircraft) is nothing short of unique, because it was designed with the passenger experience in mind…We have been waiting for this moment to welcome our new A380, and show the world what an icon this airport truly is.”
Saying “The Dreamliner has not broken our dreams,” Al Baker also defended the airline’s Boeing 787 fleet, which has come under fire following a recent Al Jazeera investigation.
The airline’s super-jumbo launch comes six years after Qatar Airways placed its first order for the plane, and some four months after the airline was originally scheduled to receive its first three A380s.
Al Baker declined to comment on how much the airline paid for the planes, but said the list price for an A380 is $380 million.
The newly launched aircraft will conduct training flights for the next 15 days, and the first plane will begin flying to London Heathrow on Oct. 10.
Flights to Paris are expected to begin shortly after that. No other routes have been announced, but Al Baker previously told Doha News that Doha-New York on the A380 is also in the works.
Qatar Airways currently has nine more of the planes on order, and three additional A380 options.
Over 500 people gathered yesterday to witness the launch, including Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani and Minister of Finance and Chairman of Qatar Airways Ali Shareef Al Emadi.
Two international football celebrities – FC Barcelona’s assistant coach Carles Puyol, General Director Antoni Rossich, and striker Luis Suarez also made an appearance.
Acrobats also performed an aerial display, making geometric shapes against the backdrop of a giant sliding hangar door which then opened to reveal the A380.
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera English aired an investigation titled “Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787,” outlining quality control problems with the planes and allegations of drug abuse by company workers.
Qatar Airways has 15 Dreamliners so far out an order of 60 planes, which cost more than $200 million each.
The 787s were suspended briefly in January 2013 over worldwide safety concerns, but resumed operations last April.
In response to questions about whether the airline was worried about the 787s, Al Baker said:
“The Dreamliner has not broken our dreams. Actually, it has fulfilled our dreams to have an airplane that is fuel-efficient, modern, state-of-the-art (and) low emission…
Qatar Airways would never put a single passenger in an airplane that is unsafe. Yes, there will always be disgruntled employees in companies that will try to create sensation out of nothing.”
“Every new airplane program will have issues. The Airbus A380, flying now for nearly five years, has also issues that are still being corrected…(like) the wings (and) the doors…
Yes, there are issues with the airplane. There are software issues, electrical panel issues…but…(there is) nothing that would jeopardize the safety of the airplane, or most importantly, its passengers.”
Al Baker also commented on allegations of drug consumption at Boeing.
“Every single organization in the world has issues of drug abuse…we also have in our region” he said. “So if an individual or two takes drugs, doesn’t mean that the entire company is on drugs building airplanes.”
He added that aside from Boeing engineers and craftsmen, “an aggressive team of inspectors” hired by Qatar Airways was in place to monitor the manufacturing of the airplanes.
Meanwhile, in response to a reporter’s question, Al Baker stated that plans for a Qatar Airways IPO had been shelved for “at least another decade,” to allow for the fulfillment of continuing expansion plans.
Three more A380s are expected to be inducted into the Qatar Airways fleet before the year’s end, flying daily to London and Paris.
The double-decker Airbus has 517 seats – 461 in economy, 48 in business class and eight in first class.
First Class seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration and feature a 90” full flat bed and a 26” HD screen. Business Class seats feature a 80” full flat bed and a 17” HD screen for in-flight entertainment.
There are also spacious business class bathrooms and an in-flight lounge for premium passengers.
Economy seats are in a 2-4-2 configuration in the rear cabin of the upper deck and in a 3-4-3 configuration on the lower one, featuring 10.6” screens. The seat pitch is 32 inches – matching the standard set by rival Emirates, which already operates more than 50 A380s.
Despite having nine more A380s on order, Al Baker said that the performance of the inaugural model had to be judged before any further orders could be placed.
Factors that have to be taken into consideration include fuel efficiency and limited cargo capacity, he said.
Al Baker attributed the Airbus’ much-delayed delivery to modifications that were made to deal with the issue of cracks on the plane’s wings, saying,
“(It) was supposed to be delivered to us two years ago. We refused to take it unless the modifications to the wing has been done. And the Qatar Airways aircraft has the latest designed wings with all the modifications that was required…You are assured that there will be no cracks.”