British Airways Speeds A380 as Airbus Sees Further Orders

British Airways will introduce the A380 superjumbo earlier than planned as it turns to the latest wide-body planes to cut fuel costs. Airbus predicted the carrier will place a follow-on order for the world’s biggest jetliner.

BA’s first A380 will fly from London to Los Angeles from Sept. 24 and the second to Hong Kong starting on Oct. 22, the International Consolidated Airlines Group SA unit said today, after last month stating that services would begin on Oct. 15.

The coming of the superjumbo and Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner, two of which joined the BA fleet June 27 and 30, will shave more than 100 million pounds ($150 million) from the annual fuel bill by 2017, Chief Executive Officer Keith Williams said in an interview. The first A380 flew to BA’s London Heathrow hub this morning, with the second due in September a third later in 2013.

“This is a momentous moment,” Williams said at Heathrow, adding that BA has gained two models in a week after last taking a new long-haul plane 17 years ago. Deliveries will continue at a rate of one every two weeks for the next 15 months.

British Airways, catching up with Air France and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which have operated A380s for years, has opted for a lower seat count to maximize premium bookings, offering 469 berths in a four-class layout. Lufthansa’s jets have 526 seats.

Airbus Optimism

The A380s and 787s, at the core of a 5 billion-pound fleet overhaul, will replace older and less efficient jets as BA seeks to pare its 4 billion-pound annual fuel bill. The airline -- the first in the world to operate both types -- will take a total of 12 superjumbos by 2016, plus 42 Dreamliners by 2021.

The 787-8 model will debut on the Heathrow-Toronto route on Sept 1, with services to Newark Liberty following a month later. Both new types will be used on a handful of short-haul flights ahead of the regular services to ease their introduction.

Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said today he’s “reasonably confident” that British Airways, the 10th A380 operator, will take more planes, following the lead of rivals such as Emirates, the biggest superjumbo customer, and Air France-KLM Group, which have added to initial purchases.

Airbus has delivered nine A380s so far this year against a target of 25, and Bregier said in an interview that the company will meet the goal. The Toulouse, France-based planemaker will also hand over more than 600 planes in total in 2013 after delivering 295 in the first six months, he said, adding that hail damage in June caused some shipments to be delayed.

777X Interest

BA CEO Williams said that with more A380s and 787s to come, together with an order for 18 Airbus A350-1000 long-range jets for delivery from 2017 through 2023, he’s not currently looking at exercising options for more seven superjumbos.

Boeing, which last month signed up British Airways as an initial customer for its new 787-10, the largest Dreamliner, also aims to supply BA with the 777X, a re-engined and re-winged version of its largest wide-body twinjet. Williams said he likes the model, though no decision has yet been taken to order it.

British Airways raised $927 million on June 25 from its first aircraft-backed bond issue, using six 787s, two 777-300ERs and six Airbus A320s due for delivery this year or next as collateral. IAG Chief Financial Officer Enrique Dupuy said the fundraising represented a “strategic milestone.”

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