Coordinating the A-380 Inaugural

LOS ANGELES — On October 20, Qantas Airways Ltd. debuted the first commercial air service into the U.S. utilizing the new A-380 Airbus at Los Angeles International Airport. A major kickoff event was held to promote the introduction of A-380 service to local civic and business leaders, as well as the media. On hand also were movie stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, which added to the complexity of the event as well as to the broader media exposure. Agnes Huff, president of Agnes Huff Communications Group, LLC, and her staff were charged with coordinating the launch event. Afterwards, she shared her insights on what it takes to ensure such an event achieves its goals.

Huff, who also is a regular columnist on customer service for www.airportbusiness.com, says that the October event was made easier because her team had handled two previous A-380 preliminary demonstration flights.

“Having that experience as event managers behind the scenes and learning from past experiences has really facilitated making this a true success,” comments Huff.
She explains that her firm was hired by Qantas as both event and public relations manager, coordinating the airfield and media logistics.

“We started with the strategic plan and program that Qantas envisioned,” she says, “and of course this was a major effort because the A-380 was being delivered to Qantas from Toulouse, France in September and they had a lot of activities going on in Australia prior to the first commercial flight coming to Los Angeles. What we were doing in Los Angeles had to tie in with what they were doing in Australia, but it also had to meet all the requirements for our market here.”

Her company started planning six months in advance. Central to that was regular meetings with her staff, Los Angeles World Airports, and Qantas. “LAWA ensured that everybody from the airport operations standpoint would be available, whether it was police, fire, security. So, when we gave them the overview of what we wanted to do, we were able to rather quickly determine what actually was possible.

“The importance is to know what box you have to work with, versus trying to push the limits to the point where it becomes too difficult to accomplish or it causes an undue hardship on the operation. And that’s not good.”

Having movie stars involved added to the complexity of the event, says Huff, but it brought added benefits. “What complicated matters is we were working with the entertainment media, and we only had a very small window to work with. Immediately following the first-class cleaning, we allowed the Entertainment Tonight crew to board the aircraft. And they set up and filmed a full show on board the A-380. That in itself was a PR coup, if you will. But it stressed the operation.”

The veteran meeting planner relates that getting the mayor’s office involved early in the process was central to the event’s success. “We were able to focus on what this meant economically to the City of Los Angeles, as well as to do a banner campaign. City banners are only allowed for non-profit organizations that benefit the city. So, one of the things we worked on with the mayor’s office was to be able to have LAWA sponsor the banners, even though Qantas paid for the production of the banners,” she says.

While the Qantas event featured celebrities, Huff says the focus for airports should be first on local media. “We all tend to place focus on national media outlets; yet, it’s oftentimes the smaller media outlets that are going to give you the majority of the coverage. It’s their community. The other thing that I would definitely encourage is all of the trade media that are associated with your industry be included. They too are your day to day media that you deal with.

“In this case we added the additional entertainment media, which definitely has panache and buzz associated with it, but it’s not media that the airport and/or the airline is going to deal with on a daily basis.

“My recommendation is to really take care of your local media, because they are going to be there in the long run for future relationship building with your airport.”

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