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Airbus Debuts Super Jumbo A380 As Journalists, Aviation Journalists, Take a Maiden Flight

Aired February 10, 2007 - 09:30:00   ET


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR, CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER (on camera): I'm at the controls of the plane everyone's talking about, it's the Airbus, the super jumbo. And we're flying high as we put it to the test.
Hello, and welcome to CNN BUSUNESS TRAVELLER. I'm Richard Quest. This month reporting from Toulouse, in France, the headquarters of Airbus. And behind me, of course, the super jumbo, the A380.

On this special edition of the program, we're going to take you, not only onboard, but up in the air. It's my first chance to see what it's like flying on the 380. We're going to test it from top to tail, coming up.

QUEST (voice over): Putting the super jumbo through it's paces. Does it pass the Quest test?

Wide-bodied luxury at super skinny prices. The market for the new off the shelf luxury jet.

And gadgets, gizmos and gimmicks, our top picks for 2007. That's all on this month's CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER.

QUEST (on camera): Today's passenger on the A380 are amongst the most critical to be found anywhere. They are the world's journalists who cover aviation everyday. They know what passengers want and whether the A380 will be a success.

(Voice over): Two years overdue and billions of dollars over budget, but for this group that probably doesn't matter for an hour or so. We've been waiting for this day for years, our chance to fly on the super jumbo.

(On camera): With 200 journalists on board, it's pretty much a nightmare. You can imagine everybody is filming, looking, prodding, pushing, turning, making sure things work, seeing what the plane is actually like.

(Voice over): The plane is a giant from whichever way you look, back, front, up and down. But today's view is different. It's bird's eye, from the inside looking out as we fly for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The take off weight today is going to be around 361 tons, and we have 48 tons of fuel onboard at the moment. You can now just take your seats, sit back and enjoy the flight. Thank you.

QUEST (voice over): The take off role is quick, within seconds we are swept airborne by the Trent 900 Rolls Royce engines. And the awesome 79 meter wingspan of the bird that took flight.

(On camera): Airbus always said this was a quiet plane. They might be right, from the inside, at least, you could hardly hear a thing as we lifted into the air. But the other side is because it is so big, it did definitely feel like it was moving around, we were wallowing and jiggering (ph) a bit as we took off.

You can search high and low for the bars and gyms, the spas, the casinos, all the things we were promised with the 380, the reality is it is a very expensive plane to buy and that means airlines have to put as many seats as possible at the back.

(Voice over): On this plane, there are seats just about everywhere. The upper deck has 64 business class passengers; 136 economy seats. The main deck, 12 first class seats, and 307 in economy. This demonstration plane, with three classes of service, has a total of 519 seats.

Considerably fewer than the 800 plus passengers is certified to carry. Just imagine what it would be like if it was full.

With a camera at the top of the 24 meter high tail, we get a different view of the plane, over the ground. The A380 is unique with its staircases at either end, wide and sweeping at the front, cozy and tight at the back.

There are hidden treasures. The quarters where the crews will rest on long trans-oceanic flights. Or the elevators that ensure passengers on both decks are fed and watered. And with our perusal in full swing, there is unfortunately I can't tell you: What it's like to fly it.

PETER CHANDLER, A380 PILOT: Well, sometimes when we fly the airplane up to 550 tons, yes, there is a lot of inertia there, you have to anticipate a little bit more. But in general the feel of the airplane is like a much smaller airplane. It's a very responsive airplane. It feels - - when you're flying it manually, with the side stick, rather more like flying a 320.

QUEST: Upstairs, downstairs, there is plenty of room for passengers. So much room that many airlines believe the plane is simply too big for their needs. Airbus believes, hub-to-hub is big point-to-point, and transporting masses of people to popular hub destinations is the way of the future.

But only 166 of the planes have been sold. Way too few for the plane to make any money, for now.

JOHN LEAHY, AIRBUS: This airplane will become the cash cow for Airbus like the 747 was the cash cow for Boeing. This market is a market for 1,660 over a 20 year period. We're essentially the only one in the market who will at least get half of that market; 800 to 900 airplanes, will make this program very profitable.

QUEST (voice over): When the 380 comes into service there will be huge teething problems, to be sure, long lines, late luggage. But the plane is flying and will go into service before the year is out. The super jumbo is ushering in a new era of travel. Years over due and heavily over budget, the 380 is coming to an airport near you.

Coming up, clash of the aerial titans: Inside the Airbus versus Boeing dog fight. And never juggle (ph) schedules again, if you can afford it, bargain luxury that is set to revolutionize corporate travel. See you in a moment aboard, BUSINESS TRAVELLER.


QUEST (on camera): The spiral staircase first made an appearance on planes with the Boeing 747 jumbo jet many years ago. It's made a reappearance at the back of the A380. Boeing and Airbus, for 30 years the two companies have been going head to head. And it's questionable, now, as we look to the future, which one will have the stronger the hand.

(Voice over): Vast gleaming, flying machines and the most complex technology on the planet. The planes may fascinate us. But the real battle for the skies is happening firmly on the ground. If you run an airline, you have an enviable choice: Boeing from the United States, versus Europe's Airbus. Each plane maker has their backers and their detractors in this mire of politics, power, money and influence.

One thing's for sure, for every plane order going, it's a mighty struggle between the two.

KIERAN DALY, AIR TRANSPORT INTELLIGENCE: There are really three major contests, which everybody is concerned about at the moment. There is the question of whether Airbus can sell the A380 against, really the entire rest of the Boeing large aircraft range, because that debate is all about which size of airplane do you want.

Then there is this really titanic struggle in the middle class airplanes, which is the Boeing 787, the Dreamliner, that has been selling very well, and which is out there in the market, versus the Airbus A350, which Airbus also got into some difficulties with.

And now we're just seeing the very, very, beginnings of what will eventually perhaps be the biggest contest of all, which is who will replace the 7,000, 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 of these smaller narrow body airplane, that will replace things like the Boeing 737s, which are just about everywhere you look, and comparably the Airbus A320.

You know, it really is a gigantic game that's being played here.

QUEST (voice over): Orders for new planes tell the story. For the best part of a decade Airbus has held the lead in orders and deliveries. Boeing has struggled with a painful restructuring. Those tables have turned. Technical problems with the super jumbo were symptomatic of a broader malaise at Airbus.

Last year Boeing regained the lead when it came to orders. And at the end of this month, Europe's plane maker is about to embark on it's own restructuring program, called Power 8. Job losses will be involved, industrial action has been threatened. All this, as a newly nimble Boeing celebrates its resurgence.

Make or break for the plane makers doesn't lie with the traveling public. The fate of Airbus and Boeing will be decided in airline boardrooms around the world. The biggest order currently being courted is from British Airways, which has announced it will buy dozens of long-haul planes later this year.

ANDREW FITCHIE, COLLINS STEWART: They will be looking at the future shape of the industry. There will be certain routes that the larger aircraft, the A380, may well be more suited to and be BA, on it's sort of global network, flies on some of those routes.

QUEST: Who wins between Airbus and Boeing can only be judged over a large number of years. One thing's for sure, you and I, who are squashed into the back of 36F, we don't have much say in the matter. And it's still going to seem like a very long flight.

(On camera): The A380 costs about a quarter of a billion dollars, and at that price, only the very, very wealthy can afford to buy one privately. It is rumored there is one Middle Eastern oil sheik who has bought the plane and is waiting to convert it into his flying palace.

For anyone else who wants to fly, privately, there are plenty of opportunities. You may not be able to afford the space of the 380, but it's certainly a lot better than flying commercially.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Private jets conjure up images of elegance, opulence and telephone number prices. Senior executives find flying these days just so inconvenient. What happens when you put the two together? You've got the makings of a new market segment. Or so Lufthansa Technik believes.

AUGUST HENNINGSEN, LUFTHANSA TECHNIK: We have identified that there is a product need out there for individualized airplanes, but not at the high end, but let me say in the middle field. And these airplanes use standardized cabins, so these cabins are not as expensive as a VVIP cabins, of course. And so there is an increasing and growing demand for this kind of product.

PLEITGEN: These engineers are putting together the first Airbus A318 Elite. It's an essentially off the shelf luxury jet. A standardized status symbol for the corporate high-flyers. And Lufthansa Technik's first A318 customer Eric Weisskopf is very satisfied. His jet is going straight into the charter market.

ERIC WEISSKOPF, COMLUX: Now what can we offer, if you board the aircraft, you have first of all, body guard section, for the entourage, and very, very large wardrobe section for all your shopping tours.

Then you enter, actually the private section, with a very nice lounge area, including high-technology entertainment system, a nice dining area. And then in the aft section of the aircraft there is a private state room, with double beds, entertainment system. And in the aft, full cross-section bathroom, very private.

PLEITGEN: What these jets offer, more than anything else is the opportunity to get your whole entourage from A to B in relative comfort. Sure, at upwards of $30,000 and hour, a wide-bodied jet costs more than a small executive plane, but at 14 to 16 seats, you have more than double the capacity.

(On camera): This is the workshop where the jets are outfitted. This is where they go from being a regular plane to becoming an executive jet. Now the standardized version of the Airbus A318 Elite, goes for about $45 million. But if you have special wishes, you can actually pay more outfitting your jet than you're paying for the actual airplane.

(Voice over): If money's not object, and then budget A318 isn't for you. The potentates of the future will have their eye on a customized A380. Lufthansa Technik already has one eye on this lucrative future market, where grand fit outs can easily top $50 million. But it's likely to be a long wait. With commercial orders to fulfill first, private A380s aren't likely to wind up here until 2012, at least. And who knows that the latest must-have gadget will be by then.

QUEST (voice over): In a moment, from the whacky to the wonderful. Our top TRAVELLER's tech tips for 2007. CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER, back onboard.


QUEST: Welcome back to CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER. We're aboard the A380, flying up to 40,000 feet over Spain. Now, there will be many changes over the next 12 months. Not least of which (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wish to get rid of all paper tickets and turn us into e-ticket flyers.

They'll also be new developments to help us find our bags when things go wrong. Radio tagging may not be new but it is going to get a new fresh push.

(Voice over): Hong Kong International Airport, gateway to Asia, and home to a technological revolution. For the 40 million passengers a year who check in at HKIA, which was voted the world's best airport in 2005, lost and misrouted bags are slowly becoming a thing of the past, because on each baggage tag there is a microchip. It has all the details the airport needs to know to get your luggage safely from A to B. It's called radio frequency identification tagging, RFID to those in the business.

Phase one of the tagging system at HKI costs $6.5 million, and has set a precedent for testing and implementation in other airports world wide.

HOWARD ENG, HKIA: This is a typical RFID label, what we call. And actually the chip is in the middle. This is where the intelligence is.

QUEST: But what's so different between an RFID and bar coding?

ANTHONY CONCIL, IATA: If you have a misplaced piece of baggage today, someone has to go out and physically stand next to it, or the bag has to pass physically in front of a reader before we know where the bag is.

What RFID will do is it will mean that the bag proactively says, I'm here. And then we can go out and find it much more quickly.

QUEST: RFID offers some beguiling benefits for carriers, such as bulk scanning, a much higher reading accuracy, 99 percent could become the norm. And the companies behind the new technology stress how easily it can be integrated within the existing baggage structure.

ELIE SIMON, TAGSYS: The beauty of RFID is that nothing has to be changed in order to introduce this processes in the airports. It's just we simply add a little bit of electronics on the luggage tag, and we put reading system stations all the way through.

QUEST: Little tags, lots of electronics, they don't come cheap. And that's slowing down the implementation. The tag costs around 10 cents. Then there's the capital investment. Scanners on each carousel, check-in desks, and those transit hoists, they're all big capital items at a time when efficiency and cost-cutting are the buzz words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are heading north past Bordeaux (ph) on the right. And we'll continue up the --

QUEST (on camera): So, the captain's told us where we are and with the help of the camera on the tail we know what we look like outside. Where would we be without all these gadget and gizmos? They're supposed to make live easier for us on the road.

What are the new suggestions and what can we look forward to? Dan Barnes "The Financial Times" has been trying them out the at Virgin Clubhouse, at Heathrow.


DAN BARNES, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": This is the Nokia N95, features a 5 mg camera, GPS, and multi-media control. The 5 mg means I can sent photos back to friends, family, or even my boss to prove I'm actually at the office. The Nokia 95, doesn't just look good.

I also have access to multi-media. So that's movies, the web and other applications. Features GPS, meaning I can find where I am in the world, where I want to get to, and the best route to get there.

I like 3M privacy filter, because it simple, effective, and goes to the problem every business traveler understands. So, whether you're in a departure lounge, or if you're on a train, you need privacy. Here's the front of the screen. It prevents your neighbors from looking at your documents, that may be so important to you and your business.

How many other people, when I'm on the road, carry a huge number of devices, and a huge number of wires to connect those devices. What I like about this Bluetooth headset from Qstik, is it allows you to switch between your phone to your music at the push of a button, leaving you in your own little bubble.

I'm sure I'm not the only person traveling abroad who found the television reception isn't what I expect at home. Slingbox allows you to stream DVDs, television and any other media you may have at the home, to you laptop abroad. Maybe you're interested in a local weather reports for business purposes, and maybe that you're just interested whether you local team won the darby (ph). Anywhere you put a wireless network, you can also have your home company, thanks to Slingbox.

If you're traveling on business, you don't always have access to your own laptop. That can be a problem if you want to communicate. The great advantage of Vonage V-Phone is the software is on a UBS stick, so you can plug into any laptop, any computer, and have phone access, with your own account, in anyone else's office or Internet cafe, and that's really handy.

All the gadgets we've seen today, which I think are great, I believe the Nokia N95 is the one.


QUEST (on camera): This has been a flight that of us have waited several years to enjoy. And the truth is, whatever the delays and the economics of the 380, the fact is it is a technological marvel, and not doubt will be appearing at major airports near you.

And that's CNN BUSINESS TRAVELLER for this month. I'm Richard Quest, reporting from Toulouse, in France. Wherever your travels may take you, I hope it's profitable. And I'll see you next month.



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