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IAG's new A380 begins decade of fleet renewal

British Airways took delivery this week of its first Airbus A380.

It will enter commercial service to Los Angeles Sept. 24 and to Hong Kong Oct. 22, following an entry-into-service program that involves pilot and crew training and short-haul trial flights within Europe.

The A380 flew into London Heathrow from final assembly at the Airbus plant in Toulouse, joining the two 787 Dreamliners of which BA took delivery in June. The Boeings will begin serving Toronto Sept. 1 and Newark Oct. 1.

BA will be the first airline in Europe to operate both new aircraft types.

The arrival of the A380 - cheered on at a welcoming ceremony by 380 flag-waving BA crewmembers - marks the start of a 10-year fleet renewal plan that will see the parent IAG group take delivery of 78 wide-body aircraft.

Confirmed orders are in place for 12 A380s, 24 787s and six B777-300ERs. Additionally, IAG has ordered 18 A350-1000s and plans to convert options on a further 18 787s, both subject to shareholder approval. The B747s and B767s in the current fleet will gradually be phased out.

For IAG Cargo, the single business formed from the merger of British Airways World Cargo and Iberia Cargo and the subsequent acquisition of bmi, the new aircraft represent a major opportunity to increase capacity and enhance reliability.

“This is an incredibly important and exciting day for IAG Cargo and our customers. These new aircraft will play a crucial role in helping us to meet our commitment to provide long-term capacity solutions for businesses across the world,” Steve Gunning, managing director of IAG Cargo, says. "We are confident that the B787 and A380, along with the aircraft we will introduce over the next few years, give us the modern and scalable airside capabilities we need to provide the highest levels of customer service.”

BA is the first A380 customer to specify an Airbus adaptation giving 12 tonnes extra maximum takeoff weight. Compared to a standard A380, IAG Cargo will add two additional ULD positions in the hold as well as offering four pallet positions.

The A380-800 can accommodate 525 passengers in what Airbus describes as a "comfortable three-class" configuration. However, most customers have opted for a lower seat density and BA spokesman Adam Chaudhri says the carrier's choice of just 469 seats, and the resulting reduced baggage load, gave more flexibility in terms of cargo.

Airbus A380 marketing director Keith Stonestreet says the airplane has 1,200-1,300 miles more range at full load than a B747-400. He anticipates that the A380 will be able to carry 12 tonnes of cargo on the L.A.-London routing and up to 15 tonnes to Hong Kong, where the cargo is typically of higher density.

The A380s have air conditioning capability in the forward hold and heating and ventilation in the rear hold, with the aim of attracting customers that need to transport temperature-sensitive cargo. The new 787s also boast air-conditioned holds.

Airbus claims the A380s are 16 percent more efficient than the B747s they will replace. They will also have one-quarter of the noise footprint of their predecessors, and thus benefit from lower landing fees at Heathrow.

BA has not revealed other destinations beyond L.A. and Hong Kong as further A380s join the fleet, but Stonestreet says the carrier is mulling Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Johannesburg and Miami.