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2001: Virgin Atlantic's Cruise Ship In The Sky

As Aviation Week & Space Technology reports in the September 1 issue, London’s Heathrow Airport is struggling with handling Airbus A380s because they take up so much space and often need longer to vacate runways. Spacing between A380s approaching and taking off is also much bigger than for standard-size aircraft, putting additional strain on already limited runway capacity.

Looking back to the launch days of the A380 in late 2000, one would have expected that by now Virgin Atlantic should have been one of the airlines responsible for A380 congestion at Heathrow. Of course, it isn’t. The carrier was one of the launch customers (six aircraft) and pushed the program above the 50 aircraft mark at which what was then the EADS Board of Directors was willing to give the green light for the multi-billion investment. But it has deferred deliveries several times and now looks likely to never take them.

Back then, Virgin Atlantic had big plans for the aircraft. It was looking at lounges for economy passengers, gyms, bars, games arcades, children’s play areas or food outlets Business and First Class passengers would have been able to use meeting rooms and private cabins. And Steve Ridgway, back then Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Executive, in all seriousness said that “the economics are there” to do all this. The year 2000 must clearly have been a different age.

Virgin Atlantic has learned by now that the economics are not there. And Airbus has long backed off its cruise ship in the sky concept now pushing operators to add even more seats to A380s to make the unit costs look even nicer.

Read Aviation Week & Space Technology’s January 1, 2001 article: Virgin To Make A380 ‘New Flying Experience'

Another sign that times have clearly changed is that in spite of all the pressure on yields and costs – there is one airline that has not forgotten the private suite idea. It is not Virgin Atlantic, it is Etihad. That airline did not even exist in 2000.

 Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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