Touchdown: First Scheduled British Airways A380 Arrives in Boston

Anticipation of the Airbus

Soaring over a crowd of around 30 people on Castle Island, the first scheduled British Airways Airbus A380 arrived at Boston Logan this afternoon. Incidentally, it touched down on Runway 4R – which was the same runway that the Boeing 747 I was on landed on in 2014 – at around 1:30 p.m.

Speedbird 213 super soaring towards Runway 4R.

Last July, when the news first broke that BA would be flying its A380s from Boston to London Heathrow in 2017, I was hesitant to put much stock in it. Things change in the aviation world all the time, and so while that didn’t stop me from writing a post on it, I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s a difference between reporting the news and buying into it.

Initially, my skepticism seemed to be well-founded: in August, BA mysteriously pulled its scheduled deployment of the aircraft, with the apparent culprit being the delayed renovation of Terminal E. At that point, I thought that the delay was due to “typical Massachusetts construction,” as we often see construction projects cost more and take longer than anticipated (e.g. the Big Dig).

However, September saw BA reinstate its plans to launch A380 service to Logan, with the new start date scheduled for a month after the original planned introduction. And while the new schedule has the aircraft visiting only three days per week (Sunday, Monday, and Friday) as opposed to the original schedule which had it lined up to come four times per week (Thursday through Sunday), it appeared that the new timeline took into account the construction of the A380-capable gates and new Terminal E lounge.

March 26, 2017

Even though Emirates holds the distinction of having flown the first scheduled A380 to Boston – a one-off flight exactly two months before this one – BA is the first carrier to land a regularly-scheduled A380 in Boston.

On multiple occasions, I have said that I prefer the 747– and particularly BA’s 747s – to the A380. While that still holds true, I have developed a newfound admiration for the A380, particularly after traveling on it in China and experiencing how modern and efficient it is, and so I went to see the maiden arrival – operated by G-XLEE as BA213 – this afternoon (the aircraft will return to London tonight as BA212).

I arrived around 20 minutes before the aircraft was scheduled to land, and was surprised to find that there were a number of onlookers waiting with their cameras, phones, and scanners. I got out my phone to open Flightradar24, and saw that the aircraft was beginning its downwind leg.

 

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Visible, but not much detail here.

We continued to track G-XLEE, both visually and with FR24. Soon enough, it was starting its final approach.

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On final.

As it got closer, the sense went from ‘this is going to happen’ to ‘this is really happening.’ Correspondingly, the plane went from being a faraway object that was barely visible to an approaching aircraft that revealed more and more detail by the second.

Having disappeared from our vision over the shipyard, the aircraft touched down on 4R, arriving at the gate 10 minutes after the tires hit the tarmac. As such, the long-anticipated event was completed.

Looking Forward

With this arrival, Boston has seen a scheduled BA A380 before New York JFK. And while this is somewhat surprising given that JFK-LHR is the busiest transatlantic route in the world and that BA is the dominant carrier on that route, there are actually a few explanations for this seemingly counterintuitive circumstance.

Moreover, the arrival of the A380 does not mean that BA will stop sending 747s to Boston. Unlike some other U.S. destinations (such as San Francisco and Washington D.C.) where BA used to send 747s but now mostly sends A380s and 777s, BA will likely continue to fly the 747 to Boston alongside the A380 for quite some time. Today is a perfect example: while BA213 and BA212 are operated by an A380, BA203 and BA202 are being flown by a 747.

Why is this?

Well, in addition to boasting good load factors on its BOS-LHR route, which means that it can fill a large number of seats, BA recently retrofitted a portion of its 747 fleet with a modernized cabin and more business class seats. Given that BOS-LHR is a route with high “premium” demand (e.g. a large number of first and business class travelers), the retrofitted aircraft still have a decent amount of life left in them, and that more than 790,000 people traveled between Logan and London Heathrow last year, it makes sense that Boston as a destination can support two four-engine, double-decker planes in the same day.

Most of all, I’m curious to know which of Logan’s runways the A380 uses. While the “main” runways – 4R/22L and 15R/33L – are obviously capable of handling an A380, I am curious to see if the two “supporting” runways – 4L/22R and 9/27 – will see any A380 action. Performance-wise, I think it’s possible, as the A380 has superior takeoff performance to the 747 and I have observed a number of 747s use 4L/22R and 9/27, but I can’t say for sure.

Despite a cloudy day, the sight of the Superjumbo was a bright spot on this particular Sunday. With any luck, there will be many more to come.