As Emirates flight 241 approached the runway on its inaugural flight into Toronto yesterday afternoon, a few audible gasps could be heard from the crowd gathered against the windows of Terminal 1. There was no debate: this aircraft was enormous. For most, it was the first time they had seen an Airbus A380—the world’s largest passenger aircraft—in person, and Toronto is currently the only city in the Americas where the airline flies the plane. For the VIPs gathered, the excitement also came with some stern words for the federal government.
Torontoist got a chance to explore the aircraft inside and out, so buckle up and ensure your seatbacks are in an upright position, because this is no ordinary aircraft. We’ll show you what you get for the top ticket price of $10,000 per seat.
“I’m so excited to see that beautiful big bird come out of the sky and land at the Mississauga International Airport,” quipped Mayor Hazel McCallion, who was one of the VIPs in attendance for the touchdown.
Introduced into commercial service in October of 2007, the Airbus A380 is part of a new class of “superjumbo” airliners that not only carry a larger number of passengers on long-haul flights, but also introduce a new standard of luxury. Emirates is to be the largest operator of 380s, currently with five in service and fifty-three more on order at a cost of $19 billion.
Torontoist reader Tom Podolec visited the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France, on May 7 and captured this image of an Emirates A380 being assembled.
The hallmark of the A380 is its double-decker configuration, which runs the entire length of the fuselage, unlike the Boeing 747’s characteristic bump behind the flight deck. In comparison with the 747-400 (the second-largest passenger airliner), the A380 boasts 49% more floor space and 20% better fuel economy.
At a staggering 80 metres wide, the wingspan forced airports receiving the aircraft to modify their gate facilities and taxiways. Two gates at Pearson’s Terminal 1 needed to be reconfigured to accommodate the aircraft’s size. “You gotta be really careful on the ground because the wings are very big,” says pilot David Heino, who hails from Burlington. “But we have airfield charts that document what airplanes can pass on opposite taxiways and things like that.”
Pilot David Heino; the A380 pulls into the gate at Pearson for the first time. Photos by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
Under the Emirates cabin arrangement, the entire upper level contains the premium seats: fourteen enclosed first-class suites and seventy-six business-class seats. It’s an odd sight to see such a long stretch of “pods” on one level instead of splitting with the usual cattle-car configuration, but it’s probably a good thing that the economy passengers don’t know what they’re missing. Each first class suite has a desk, vanity mirror, 23″ viewing screen, coat closet, dine-on-demand service, and a vibrating bed. Business class seating is less private, but still with appealing amenities and extremely ample legroom. Each seat has its own private minibar and the seat reclines into a fully flat bed.
The main deck features the crew sleeping compartment and 399 economy seats spread ten abreast. Though the screens are smaller, every seat has a touchscreen entertainment system, and every passenger has access to a selection of 1,200 entertainment channels for the thirteen-hour flight.
Emirates classifies its $10,000 premium seats as “suites.” Photo by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
Aft of the cabin is a full bar and lounge, which Emirates staff told us is the most popular part of the aircraft. With leather bench seating running along each wall, the space is wide enough to entertain many passengers comfortably. Behind the bar area is a huge, horseshoe-shaped galley, which is not insignificant considering that the crew has to prepare and serve multiple meals for almost five hundred people.
Though Emirates has designed the interior with luxurious accents of polished wood and leather, probably the most fascinating parts of the interior design are the two shower rooms for first-class ticket-holders. Passengers are allotted twenty-minute periods to freshen up in a pleasing area roughly the length and width of a minivan. The rooms have hair dryers, full-length mirrored walls, marble accents, and heated floors. A computerized plumbing system draws on a store of almost five hundred litres of water reserved for showers (only about five minutes of actual shower time is permitted per passenger).
At the top of the main stairs at the front of the aircraft, there is even a waterfall feature.
The amenities are meant to appeal to what Emirates says is an exceptional demand for travel between Toronto and Dubai, but the launch event was also meant to send a message to the federal government. Emirates is taking advantage of the GTAA’s new incentive program that offers landing fee rebates to carriers for increasing the frequency of their flights or adding new routes to Pearson, but they say the feds are being unnecessarily restrictive. The airline is only allowed to operate three flights a week out of Canada, but they want to run a flight to Dubai daily.
The A380’s large flight deck. Photo by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
“We have a very high level of booking,” said Emirates president Timothy Clark. The aircraft will be operating at 99% seat factors [capacity], and that makes the case for more services.” Clark was being diplomatic in his language, but he also recruited Ontario cabinet chair Gerry Phillips, Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion, and Toronto councillor Kyle Rae to drive the point home.
“This is the only city in the Americas that Emirates is flying the 380,” explained Philips. “We do an awful lot of exporting of manufactured goods, IT goods, many of our architects, our engineers, our legal, our accountants are working in Dubai.”
“The only constraint in our growing relationship is probably capacity to work together, so I want to just add our voice to many other voices in convincing the federal government that perhaps we do need more than three flights a week.”
When we asked him why he seemed frustrated, Councillor Kyle Rae was more blunt: “They’re flying in three times a week, and they want to fly in five times a week. [Actually, daily. –Ed.] The federal government won’t give them permission. There’s a six-month delay getting cargo onto this flight. It is an economic engine, it is an important opportunity for international trade, and the federal government—because this is Toronto—is not giving them landing rights. This is interference in the marketplace and it has to stop.”
Federal Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy was also in attendance and all smiles, but found fingers pointed at her. Said McCallion: “Madame Minister, [the airport] needs a little more cooperation from the federal government. We are the largest airport in Canada, but other airports get a better deal than we get.”
Emirates President Timothy Clark; Hazel McCallion slams the federal government while Federal Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy squirms behind her. Photos by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
The urgency is rooted in the increasing importance and influence of Dubai on the international scene, especially as it relates to tourism. Formerly a tiny desert community of 183,000 people, the population has ballooned to 1.5 million in only three decades, only 10% of which are now Emiraties. One of the world’s most audacious skylines has appeared only relatively recently with the explicit intention of attracting affluent westerners to the “Vegas of the Middle East,” where many of the rules of this strict Muslim society are relaxed for the sake of tourism.
The aircraft receives a traditional welcome at Gate 173. Photo by Hamish Grant/Torontoist.
As for Toronto, yesterday’s flight was a landmark for local aviation enthusiasts and the GTAA. Though the A380 had briefly visited Iqaluit, Montreal, and Vancouver in its passengerless testing stages, Pearson is one of only a few airports to regularly fly the superjumbo in the western hemisphere. Emirates chose to redeploy two of their A380s from New York’s JFK airport to Toronto and Bangkok instead, claiming stronger demand and less competition. Some think that the move was made specifically to pressure the Canadian government to release travel restrictions to the United Arab Emirates.
“In this economic downturn, they have chosen to fly here,” says Hazel McCallion. “I hope the federal government will recognize this.”
Whatever the case may be, we’ll take it. Our two cities already share the world’s two tallest freestanding structures, so perhaps it’s appropriate that we also share the world’s largest passenger jet.