Emirates marked a milestone today when the Austrian capital of Vienna welcomed the airline’s 80th Airbus A380 superjumbo, flying in direct from the Airbus production facility in Hamburg.
Austrian dignitaries, officials, VIPs and media at the event were the first non-operational people to set foot inside the brand new aviation giant.
The aircraft will start services to and from the Viennese hub from July 1 and Emirates will be the first airline to operate a scheduled A380 service into the city.
The arrival of the airline’s latest A380 comes at a time when used A380s are being offered at a 40 per cent discount to the US$2 million-plus monthly rental rate for a new plane as the leasing firm Doric seeks to spur demand for the second-hand jets.
Doric is in talks with a number of potential operators for a tranche of double-deckers that could be returned by Singapore Airlines and Emirates from 2017 following the completion of 10-year leases, said Sibylle Paehler, the lessor’s managing director.
Interested parties span second-tier airlines that have not yet flown the A380 through charter carriers and companies that specialise in so-called wet-lease services, in which jets are provided for a limited term complete with crews.
"Each has a different business model, so it’s hard to make precise forecasts on the most-likely future use," Ms Paehler said, adding that the main stumbling block is that "nobody wants to be first" in announcing a deal for a 550-seat plane whose popularity as a second-hand transport has yet to be demonstrated.
Vienna Airport has embarked on a long-term development project that includes changes to the apron infrastructure, investments in aircraft handling equipment, gate and boarding facilities, and airside terminal areas.
This special one-off visit by the 80th A380, captained by the Austrian national Florian Ragg, was made to test technical procedures such as pier docking, movement of the aircraft on the apron into its correct parking position, specialised aircraft cleaning inside and out and the loading and unloading of catering and baggage. To provide a large enough space for docking and handling of this wide body aircraft four airport gates will be merged into one.
Emirates has served the Vienna-Dubai route since 2004 and since then has carried almost three million passengers on its double daily service. By deploying the latest A380, which has a seat capacity of 519, the airline will now be able to carry more than 1,700 passengers between Dubai and Vienna every day.
Tourism in Austria, as well as directly or indirectly linked industries such as trade, transport and infrastructure will further benefit from the introduction of the A380. Emirates’ 14 weekly frequencies support close to 1,800 full-time jobs in the European country, generating economic impact on the national GDP worth approximately €179 million (Dh742.7m) a year, according to Emirates.
Over the past few years, Austria and the cosmopolitan city of Vienna, have developed into one of the fastest-growing markets for passengers from the Middle East. In 2015, more than 115,000 visitors arrived into Austria from the UAE alone, a 34.8 per cent increase compared to the year before, the airline said.
Outbound, some of the most popular destinations for Austrian travellers are Bangkok, Colombo, Mauritius and Male, many of which are served by the A380, meaning passengers can enjoy the luxury of the world’s largest passenger aircraft all the way.
Today’s milestone came after Emirates, the largest operator of the superjumbo, said this month it has all but given up on getting an upgrade of the double-decker with new engines and is instead making a more modest pitch to the plane maker: please do not drop the programme altogether.
"I can’t force Toulouse to do anything," Emirates president Tim Clark told reporters at a briefing in Dublin, referring to Airbus’ home base in southern France. "My main concern is that they stop producing the plane."
Mr Clark has become a marketing champion for the A380 but conceded that talks with the manufacturer regarding an upgrade had "kind of lapsed". Emirates is by far the largest customer for the aircraft, having ordered 142 in total.
Emirates’ concern about Airbus keeping the plane on the production line is driven by the fact that few sizeable buyers exist besides the Arabian Gulf operator.
Airbus, after rushing 18 months ago to assure the airline community that it would look seriously at an A380Neo, has made increasingly clear that any such project is something for the long term.