How we decide our A380 routes

By Phil Heard for The Club magazine

Photography by British Airways

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May 2016

Ever wondered how British Airways decides where to deploy the A380 double-decker aircraft? Here are all the details from the people in the know.

Size matters

Let’s just say it: the Airbus A380 is big. It has to be to carry 469 passengers and 22 cabin crew. It takes skill to manoeuvre the ‘super-jumbo’ around busy airfields – airports often need modifications including stands and taxiways; even runways may need strengthening. “It will take years for some airports to be ready,” says schedule planning manager, David Smith.

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  • A380 flight deck view © British Airways

Future visions

While the lead-time for launching routes is normally 12-18 months, it climbs to at least two years for the A380 due to infrastructure issues – and that can create problems. Jack Walker, network development manager, explains, “We have to think about where people will want to fly and what competitors will be doing.”

The A380 offers a fuel-burn saving per seat of around 20 per cent over the Boeing 747

Economies of scale

The A380 offers a fuel-burn saving per seat of around 20 per cent over the Boeing 747. The further it flies, the better the savings. “Most fuel is used on take-off and landing, so the longer the cruise, the greater the economy,” says Walker.

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Slots of fun

BA uses the A380 to reduce the number of aircraft used on a route while maintaining or boosting seat numbers. Smith says, “Operating another flight can be an inefficient way to grow capacity because of the extra cost of slots, crew and additional aircraft. It’s smarter to use a bigger aircraft.”

Because Heathrow is constrained and runs at more than 99 per cent capacity, landing and take-off slots are rare and costly. When BA started flying the A380 to Los Angeles, it reduced a three-times daily 747 service to two A380, maintaining the quantity of seats while handing back a precious slot to develop BA’s route network.

Are you going to San Francisco?

When the A380 started flying in to San Francisco the local team were well prepared, says Anthony Arms, BA airport manager at San Francisco. “We sent team members to LA to observe the A380 operations, and we learned from best practice at Washington,” he says.

Tony Edwards, BA airport infrastructure manager, worked with SFO airport to secure what he describes as the “best stand” on the A satellite building, and the security area was enlarged to deal with the increase in numbers.