Aviation News

March 26, 2007

Airbus A380 Makes First Visit to New York: The Plane That Launched a Million Clicks

First approach to JFK 3/26/07
First approach to JFK 3/26/07

Photo by Melanie Rose

New York-area aviation enthusiasts witnessed history this past week. Airbus introduced the world’s largest passenger jet to the United States by simultaneously landing two copies of their new A380 Super Jumbo at both JFK Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

In and around JFK, an audience consisting of plane spotters, media photographers, pilots gawking from other aircraft, and curious passersby stood in awe at the sight of the double-decker behemoth emerging over the horizon. Dozens of cameras furiously clicked away as the massive jet gracefully touched down on runway 22L and taxied past a specially arranged media viewing area, while the pilots marked the international significance of the occasion by unfurling United States and European Union flags out of a cockpit window.

The aircraft’s arrival in New York was planned and promoted over the past two months by Airbus in coordination with one their A380 customers, Lufthansa, as part of a route proving and media demonstration tour. The aircraft (registration F-WWJB/build number 007) arrived from Frankfurt as “Lufthansa 8940 Super” carrying about 500 passengers, all of them Airbus and Lufthansa employees. This was the first time the FAA’s new “super” weight designation had been used; it was created especially for the A380 due to its unusually large wake turbulence signature, which requires planes to stay even further behind it than “heavy” aircraft, such as the Boeing 747.

Photo by Melanie Rose

The Los Angeles flight was made in coordination with another A380 buyer, Qantas. This flight was operated by Airbus itself, who flew the plane from their manufacturing facility in Tolouse, France. Airbus had originally planned to fly only to New York for this introductory event, but the company was reminded by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that they had promised LAX the first U.S. A380 landing. To fulfill their pledge, Airbus scrambled another A380 (registration F-WWOW/build number 001), which does not yet have an interior. Consequently, the flight was completed with only 23 passengers and crew aboard.

In a press conference following the JFK arrival, Airbus Chief Operating Officer and head of sales John Leahy expressed his personal pride to be aboard the flight, as he is a native of New York who once drove taxicabs to and from JFK. He went on to plug the A380′s use of U.S.-made components, citing $10 billion worth purchased in 2006, and expressed his belief that the A380 will help propagate “a feeling of interconnectivity that only aviation can bring to the world.” Leahy also expressed hope that United Airlines and Northwest Airlines may eventually place orders for the plane.

Local officials also spoke to the press. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Anthony Coscia and Executive Director Anthony Shorris officials welcomed the new aircraft as a leap forward in commercial aviation, citing an expected $80 million boost to the local economy and 1,000 new jobs once carriers begin serving JFK with the Super Jumbo. They also touted the investments the agency has made in preparing JFK for the A380, which include the widening of runway 4R/22L from 150 feet to 200 feet and the widening and strengthening of certain taxiways. Shorris also pointed out that Newark Liberty International would be able to handle A380 service as well, but that no infrastructure upgrades will be made until a carrier announces intentions to fly the type there.

Photo by Phil Derner, Jr.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was also on hand to stamp her seal of approval on the new aircraft. Queens is home to both of the city’s airports, which causes many residents to grow squeamish upon learning that yet another type of plane will be roaring overhead, especially a large one. Marshall, who pointed out that she lives in the shadow of La Guardia Airport departures, sought to calm those fears by assuring locals that the A380′s four huge Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines meet Stage 4 noise requirements, which translates to a 30% quieter plane than the 747. Indeed, perhaps the only thing the day’s onlookers marveled at as much as the A380′s size was at how quiet the giant machine was.

The superlatives eventually subsided on Monday, but the A380 show was not through yet. On Tuesday she made her first JFK takeoff for a jaunt to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and then returned to JFK in time for a media demonstration flight Wednesday morning. The fun ended Wednesday night when F-WWJB returned to Frankfurt.

For a variety of reasons, it is not known exactly when New York-area spotters will see an A380 again; production delays have pushed back the earliest deliveries to late this year. But at least for a couple of days, we got to witness not only a milestone in aviation history, but a major step forward in technology’s efforts to make the world a smaller place.

With reporting by Melanie Rose