SUNDAY TIMES -- You probably won't see Jeremy Clarkson aboard the Airbus A380 because he doesn't like sardine tins, especially when he's inside one of them. He makes this point in his Clarkson style in a brilliant piece of writing for the Sunday Times.
At a lavish, laser-speckled launch party in France last week, Tony Blair said that the new Airbus was “a symbol of confidence that we can compete and win in the global market”.
Nearly right, you big-eared thicko. Actually, it is a symbol of confidence that we can compete and win in the global market despite the utter stupidity of your government.
The gigantic wings for this plane are built by British Aerospace in north Wales. But each one is far too large to be taken to Toulouse by road and far too heavy to be taken there by air. So they are loaded on to barges in the port of Mostyn and floated down the Irish Sea, across the Channel and then through France’s canal network.
Plainly this is idiotic. It would be much easier and cheaper to build them in France but politically this would be no good at all because the Airbus is intended to show how European co-operation can work. We do the wings and the engines, the French put everything together, the Germans finish everything off and the Spanish . . . actually, I don’t know what the Spanish do, apart from gatecrash the launch party and lisp.
You would imagine then that Tony’s government would be doing everything in its power to make sure that Britain’s contribution was smooth and effortless. But no. Those wings can be loaded on to the barges only at high tide because the monumentally daft Environment Agency won’t let anyone dredge the harbour at Mostyn.
Why ever not? Well, there’s the European Union Habitats Directive, you see, that was drawn up to protect worms and slugs from the perils of profit. Elsewhere on the Continent they don’t apply it to navigational routes but in Britain we do. So, thanks to the green-eyed madness of our men in parkas, building the most advanced plane in the skies is governed by the needs of an invertebrate and the orbit of the moon.
I have another problem with Tony’s launch speech, too, because he described the A380 as “the most exciting new aircraft in the world”. Even if we ignore the fact that he can’t possibly know since it hasn’t actually left the ground yet, I am not sure that he’s right.
Technically, of course, we must doff our caps to the engineers who have built a cross-Channel ferry that can fly. It is far from the prettiest machine ever made but we should marvel at the quietness of its engines, its 8,000-mile range, its ability to take off on conventional runways and its parsimonious drinking habits. It uses less fuel per passenger than a Ford Fiesta.
Yes, at the moment, despite much plastic and carbon fibre in its construction, the A380 is four tons overweight, but when the 747 was rolled out in the 1960s that was 50 tons overweight. So let’s not get too worried. They could save four tons by simply removing one American passenger.
Plainly the weight issue has not worried Virgin, Emirates and the other carriers that have placed orders. Even British Airways would do the same, except that its long-haul fleet is fairly new and it hasn’t got any money.
So the message is clear. For the airlines and their shareholders this enormous plane is marvellous. But I am not sure that it is quite so rosy for you and me.
Certainly life will be worse at airports because to accommodate these giants the gates have to be further apart. Walk past four A380s to reach your plane and you will have walked the length of four football pitches.
That is presuming you got past the check-in. I guess you have all experienced the ludicrous queues that build up now. Well, imagine how long they are going to be when there are half a dozen A380s scheduled to depart within 15 minutes of one another. With seating for 550 on each one that is 3,300 people to be interrogated, 3,300 suitcases to be loaded, 3,300 pieces of hand luggage to be x-rayed and 3,300 pairs of shoes to be examined.
Do you think that Virgin or Emirates will spend the money that they have saved on fuel by employing more check-in staff? I doubt it. As a result you will need to arrive at the terminal 3,300 hours before take-off. Then there is the flight itself to worry about.
Airbus made sure that its launch video featured on-board gyms and bars. There were big squidgy double beds and probably a polo lawn or two. But the reality is that airlines will fill the entire fuselage with seats they’ve nicked from a primary school to wedge the passengers in like veal.
In other words, being on board the A380 will be exactly the same as being on board any other jet liner. Exciting? I don’t think so, Tony.
This brings me to the final point. You see, the cruising speed of the A380 is Mach 0.85 (647mph), which is pretty good for something with the aerodynamic properties of a wheelie bin and engines that run on mineral water. But the 747 cruises at Mach 0.855 (651mph). This means that the 747 gets you there faster and means that you spend less time with your face wedged in an American’s armpit.
On that basis you can marvel at how Airbus has jumped through political hoops and climbed technical mountains to bring the world its shareholder friendly A380. But you are better off going in a Boeing.
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