Dubai-based airline Emirates gave a boost to Hong Kong’s National Day celebrations on 1 October, with the first arrival in Hong Kong of one of the carrier’s Airbus A380s, just hours before a dazzling fireworks display lit up the iconic harbour skyline.
With festivities in full swing across the city, the superjumbo landed at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) to mark the start of the carrier’s daily A380 service connecting Hong Kong and Dubai, via Bangkok.
Flight EK384, carrying 328 passengers, touched down at 6pm local time, and was welcomed by a water-cannon salute as Hong Kong became the 11th destination in Emirates network to be served by the largest commercial aircraft in the skies.
Richard Jewsbury, Emirates’ senior vice-president of commercial operations for the Far East and Australasia, said: “It was tremendous that our Airbus A380 made its maiden flight to Hong Kong on a day of national celebration. Hong Kong is a thriving commercial hub and – along with Greater China – is integral to the future growth of the world economy.”
“This economic strength makes it a key market for Emirates and we are delighted to be bolstering our commitment to the region by bringing our flagship aircraft to Hong Kong,” he added.
The 517-seat, double-deck jetliner will help meet growing passenger demand on the route, especially in premium business and first-class cabins, Jewsbury said.
The aircraft was warmly received by the airport operator, Airport Authority of Hong Kong (AA).
“We have a long established relationship with Emirates, which goes back to 1991, and the announcement by Emirates that they will operate their Airbus A380 aircraft between Hong Kong and Dubai signifies an important development in our partnership,” said Stanley Hui, chief executive officer of the AA.
Edwin Lau, Emirates’ Vice-President for Greater China, added that the new service comes just two months after Emirates launched A380 flights between Dubai and Beijing.
“Having operated on the route for almost two decades, Hong Kong has played an increasingly important role in our global network. In addition to connecting passengers to more than 100 destinations around the world, we disperse a large volume of cargo,” Lau said. “Each week, more than 2,300 tonnes of freight is transported by Emirates across the belly-hold capacity of 14 passenger flights and 19 dedicated freighter services, operated by Emirates SkyCargo from Hong Kong.”
Emirates eventually aims to have as many as 120 Airbus A380s, as its passenger numbers are increasing by an impressive 20 percent annually. The carrier expects this growth to remain steady for the next five years, as it takes delivery of the first batch of 90 aircraft it has ordered, airline President Tim Clark said.
"We would like some more [A380s] but we are going to run short of space," he said. "One hundred and twenty was the baseline figure that the planners worked to get where we needed to be, but we couldn't order that amount because it was too many for here, so 90 was a compromise."
The carrier will order more of the jetliners once it gets additional space at its home base in Dubai, Clark added. An additional order for 30 of the airliners would be worth about US$10bn at list prices. If the airline went ahead with its growth plans it would have an A380 fleet worth more than US$40 billion.
Emirates, already by far the biggest A380 customer, announced a record US$11bn order for 32 of the superjumbos at the Berlin Air Show in June. At July's Farnborough Air Show, Emirates also ordered 30 Boeing 777-300ER widebody twinjets in a deal potentially worth more than US$9 billion. He added that Emirates is talking to Boeing about where the manufacturer will go next with the aircraft.
"We are working with Boeing on the next generation of 777. We are still very interested in a replacement," Clark said.
Boeing has said it is considering the future of the aircraft, which faces tough new competition from Airbus’s proposed A350 XWB.
The rapid expansion of Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and Qatar Airways, has caused consternation among rivals, triggering mutual accusations of protectionism. Competitors fear that Gulf-based superjumbos will siphon traffic away from their own hubs.
US and European airlines last week launched a campaign to change rules which allow foreign airlines to receive export credits for Airbus and Boeing aircraft. Clark said it is natural for Emirates to take advantage of export credit, where available. He added that it is up to the governments to choose whether to support their aircraft-manufacturing industries.
The Dubai-based airline has also repeatedly denied claims by rival European carriers that its fuel expenses are subsidized. "I have said: 'You prove a subsidy and I will resign the next day.' It is completely wrong," Clark said.
European airlines say financing rules mean European taxpayers are funding the growth of airlines such as Emirates through export aid that is denied to their own carriers.
“If they spent as much time running their business as they do trying to run us down, they might make even more money,” Clark said.
Emirates already operates 13 A380, with 77 more currently on order. All the Emirates superjumbos are powered by Engine Alliances’ GP7200 engines, each generating 72,000 lbs thrust.
The aircraft fly daily from Dubai to Paris, Jeddah, Seoul, Bangkok, Sydney, Auckland, Beijing and Manchester, with twice-daily London Heathrow services and three weekly flights to Toronto. Asian Aviation was recently invited to review the carrier’s in-flight product.
The airline currently operates the aircraft in two different configurations. Ultra-long range services feature three-class seating with a total capacity of 489 passengers, while long-haul cabins are laid out for 517 passengers. A two-class (business and economy only) A380 is also on the cards, seating as many as 600 passengers.
Emirates’ luxurious A380 premium cabin products include two on-board shower spas in the first-class cabin, featuring amenities produced by the airline’s spa brand, Timeless Spa.
For first- and business-class passengers, an on-board lounge is situated at the rear of upper deck, featuring a fully-stocked bar and a selection of hot and cold snacks.
First-class passengers enjoy flat-bed, massage-equipped private suites, while a new generation of all-aisle, full flat-bed seats is offered to business-class travellers. The carrier’s economy class cabin offers seats with a pitch of up to 33 inches.
Emirates’ introduced an updated version of its ICE (Information, Communication, Entertainment) in-flight entertainment (IFE) system in 2007. Called ICE Digital Widescreen, the system offers over 1,000 channels of entertainment to all Emirates passengers.
The system is based on the Panasonic Avionics’ 300i IFE system, providing passengers with a direct data-link to BBC News updates. Emirates’ ICE is the first system of its kind to be connected directly to automatic news updates. It also features Rockwell Collins’ Airshow moving-map software and allows passengers to watch exterior views from cameras outside the aircraft during take-off and landing.
ICE offers a link to an in-flight e-mail server, allowing passengers to access, send or receive e-mails, and also provides a seat-to-seat text chat service.
In November 2006 the airline signed a deal with mobile communications firm AeroMobile to allow in-flight mobile phone use on selected aircraft. The service was first introduced on commercial services between Dubai and Casablanca on 20 March 2008.
ICE entertainment menu covers movies, music and video games with more than 130 on-demand movie titles and 15 video-on-demand channels, alongside 60 pre-recorded television channels, 350 audio channels and about 50 video-game titles. ICE can also be accessed in 10 languages such as English, Arabic, Korean and Japanese.
Emirates now features docking capability for Apple's iPod music and video player. This allows passengers to charge the device's battery and play their own content through the IFE system.