China Southern first Chinese airline to take delivery of A380

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China Southern on 14 October became the first Chinese airline to receive the A380, when Airbus handed over the first of five superjumbo ordered by the Chinese carrier. The double-decker planes will spearhead the state-controlled company’s drive to more than double the percentage of capacity deployed on overseas routes to 35 percent by 2015, said Yang Bo, the head of its planning department. “Flying A380s will put us in a completely different league. We hope to use the planes to build a good brand image and to raise our profile overseas.”

International expansion
China Southern has already boosted international capacity with 33 percent this year as it aims to develop Guangzhou airport in Guangdong province – China’s biggest region by economic output – into a global hub rivaling Hong Kong, which is located less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) away. China Southern plans to boost its total fleet to 645 aircraft by 2015 from 425 today. Says Si Xianmin, Chairman of China Southern, “The economics offered by the A380 will undoubtedly improve our competitiveness on international routes and it is the perfect asset to help China Southern Airlines achieve its goal of becoming a leading global carrier.”

Qantas is already noticing the increased competition from China Southern, as the Chinese airline has significantly grown its Australia services as part of its intercontinental push. Similar drives in Europe and North America will follow, partly to offset competition from high-speed trains on domestic routes in China. China Southern Airlines’ focus on domestic flights made it Asia’s largest carrier by passengers. As Qantas CEO Alan Joyce tells Bloomberg, “The Chinese carriers are in an amazing position. They have got the scale that will make them huge and I think they will be a big challenge for the Middle Eastern carriers as well as the Asian carriers.”

Pearl of the Skies’
China Southern has selected a three-cabin configuration for its new A380 flagship, which it has dubbed ‘Pearl of the Skies’. The airline’s superjumbo has 506 seats in total: Eight ‘Platinum’ suites in First Class, 70 lie-flat Business Class seats and 428 seats in Economy. The eight First Class suites are located at the front of the lower deck in a 1-2-1 layout and look like the ‘closed’ version  of the Acumen/Countour First Class seat, an ‘open’ version of which is also installed on Korean Air’s A380’s.

Business Class, situated on the upper deck, has 180-degree lie-flat seats (which look very similar to EADS Sogerma’s Solstys seat) in a 1-2-1 staggered layout, a similar configuration which is offered by for example ANA, Asiana Airlines, and Finnair. Economy Class is configured as 3-4-3, mostly on the main deck (352 seats). Upstairs there will be a further 76 Economy seats (2-4-2) at the rear of the aircraft. China Southern’s A380 will not feature a premium economy cabin, despite the fact that the airline offers this class on most of its other aircraft.

While details of the onboard service are still scarce, China Southern says it will serve passengers “tasty Chinese cuisine” onboard. First Class passengers will also be served a traditional tea ceremony. See our Facebook page for an extensive slideshow of China Southern’s A380.

China Southern will fly its first A380 from 17 to 26 October on routes between Guangzhou and Beijing (and between Beijing and Shanghai from October 27 to 29), to test operations and promote the aircraft before moving it onto international routes. The airline’s first international A380 service is believed to be on the Guangzhou-Paris route, when its second A380 is delivered in December. China Southern will receive another two A380s in 2012 and a fifth in 2013.

Seventh A380 operator
China Southern first A380 is the 58th A380 to be delivered in total and the airline is the seventh customer (as well as the third Skyteam member) to operate the A380. Other carriers currently flying the A380 are Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, Air France, Lufthansa and Korean Air (see this graph for the different cabin configurations). The next airlines to receive their first A380 will be Malaysia Airlines and Thai Airways, with MAS likely to see its first A380 around April 2012, and Thai following in August 2012.

A380 and China
According to Airbus CEO Tom Enders, China will be the biggest or second-biggest market for commercial airliners in the next 20 years, and predicted that there will be demand for over 200 A380s in China during that period. So far, however, China Southern is the only Chinese airline to have ordered the aircraft. China Southern is also the first Chinese carrier to receive the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’, with the first delivery expected  in July 2012.


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