The airline conducted a multitude of tests with its ground handlers at various airports to ensure it was able to maintain a turnaround time of 120 minutes — the standard for the Boeing B747-400. “In fact, we have an internal target lower than that, and we have mostly been able to keep it under this target,” reveals Ionides.
Intensive training across various areas formed another major part of preparation for the superjumbo. Cabin crew had to undergo a four-day conversion training course for the A380, covering safety, service, product offerings and aircraft familiarization. Those selected to operate the Singapore Airlines suites also had to undergo an additional day of training. At the same time, operational procedures were reviewed to improve efficiency in view of the higher passenger numbers.
Although Ionidies accepts there will be hiccups with all new aircraft being entered into service, he stresses the airline has worked closely with Airbus, vendors and all stakeholders to ensure that the problems have been reduced to a minimum.
“We already have 10 A380s in our fleet and we have been happy with the dispatch reliability, given that the aircraft are being operated within very tight schedules, and at a high daily utilization rate of more than 13 hours,” concludes the VP of public affairs. “We are consistently gathering feedback from our crews and ground handlers, and we are confident of maintaining consistently high standards as the A380 fleet increases.”
Dubai — home of the A380
Of course, nobody’s A380 fleet will increase quite like that of Emirates airline. The Dubai-based carrier has ordered no fewer than 58 of the aircraft, with services to Seoul the most recent addition to the A380 network. Bangkok, Toronto, London and a service to Sydney and Auckland also benefit from the A380.
Testing at Dubai began in 2007, with the notoriously fierce heat of the Middle Eastern summer a significant component in all trials. Emirates even had 517 volunteer passengers going through all pre-flight formalities. Everything from self-service kiosks to remote stand boarding using 10 50-seater buses was put through its paces. The airline scheduled a two-hour turnaround between test flights for ground crew to test their operations. Emirates Flight Catering loaded food trolleys using a special A380 hi-loader, all ground support equipment was deployed, and passengers were even deplaned and then re-boarded.
Subsequently, the carrier’s ground support division, Dnata, invested in a number of areas, including doubling the number of ground power, air conditioning and air starter units.
Despite handling the A380 for over a year, Dnata is constantly reviewing its processes and says the learning curve is still there. However, it is already involved in consultative work on the A380, ensuring outstations due to receive the aircraft are at the requisite quality levels.
Quality isn’t a problem for Emirates’ home terminal at Dubai, which is a new construction built with the A380 in mind. Another new facility — Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum International — will be similarly equipped to handle this next generation aircraft. HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, president of the Department of Civil Aviation and chairman of the Emirates Group, has said he is looking to create nothing less than the most advanced aviation hub in the world.
Turning up down under
Qantas A380 operations have had a bumpier ride, including the grounding of the aircraft in March due to technical issues.
Its home bases of Sydney and Melbourne are well-prepared for the aircraft — benefiting not only Qantas but also the majority of A380 customers, some 75 percent of which are expected to use the plane on Australian routes. Singapore Airlines already flies there, Emirates will begin A380 services in 2010 and carriers such as Etihad and Qatar Airways also plan to put the superjumbo on services down under.
Mark Lewis, who was Qantas project manager for A380 Airport Readiness, says comprehensive preparation and planning took place over several years. “Of the issues that had to be managed, a consistent one was aerobridge operation,” he says. “Each A380 bay at each terminal has a unique configuration, which required considerable effort in identifying appropriate controls to address potential conflicts between aerobridges, and between aerobridge and aircraft.”
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