A giant superjumbo jet flew into Heathrow Airport as British Airways became the first UK airline to take delivery of an Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger plane.
Handed over by European plane-maker Airbus at its Toulouse headquarters in France after being assembled from parts made across Europe, including wings made in Broughton, North Wales, the A380 was flown into the west London airport.
With hundreds of flag-waving BA staff looking on the plane landed at Heathrow then taxied towards a giant BA hangar at Hatton Cross where it parked alongside another recently-delivered aircraft, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Powered by Rolls-Royce engines the huge double-decker plane will make its first commercial long-haul flight with BA to Los Angeles on September 24.
Aviation expert Martin Evans said the aircraft will enable BA to expand capacity on their busiest routes and marks the beginning of a fleet renewal process that will see the firm’s Boeing 747s retired.
Mr Evans, a visiting fellow at the University of South Wales, warned fleet renewal could create some uncertainty over jobs at Cardiff Airport where more than 1,000 workers maintain BA’s 747s.
But he added: “We don’t know which fleets will be maintained there in the future.”
Alongside the larger version of the 787 and the A380 BA has ordered the Airbus A350, which also has its wings made at Broughton, as part of its fleet renewal.
Airbus’ Vice President for Engineering Neil Scott paid tribute to the contribution made by the 6,000 North Wales workforce.
He said: “This is an historic day for Airbus and for British Airways as the first UK operator of this prestigious aircraft. Broughton makes a huge contribution to each A380 and it is something the team can be proud of.”
The delivery of the BA superjumbo comes weeks after the milestone maiden flight of the A350, and a display to the Paris International Airshow where Airbus took orders worth over £40bn.
The demand will strengthen the busy order book of the Broughton wing factory.
Secretary of State for Wales David Jones, a recent visitor to the Paris Air Show, said yesterday was a “proud moment for Welsh engineering”.
“Aerospace is one of our most important manufacturing industries, with Britain leading the way in Europe.”
“The standard of British engineering ingenuity that has gone into the development of this, and all other aircraft in the Airbus roster, is testament to the talent and skills that we have in our aviation workforce.”
BA is configuring the 238ft-long A380 to take 469 passengers, slightly fewer than some of the other superjumbo-operating airlines.
There will be 14 seats in first class, with 30% more space than usual. First-class passengers will enjoy nightwear, a turndown service, fine dining, a champagne supper and 15-inch screens.
Club World (business class) on the BA superjumbos will consist of 44 seats on the main deck and 53 seats on the upper deck. These passengers will get 12-inch screens.
The 55 World Traveller Plus (premier economy) seats will be on the upper deck, while World Traveller (economy) customers can choose seats on both the main and upper deck.