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Airbus’ dual celebration day in Toulouse and Hamburg

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Busy day today, Sept. 25, at both of Airbus’ major European facilities. In Toulouse this morning, the A320neo took its maiden flight, while in Hamburg this afternoon Etihad Airways will see the roll-out of its first A380.

I’m in Hamburg for that roll-out and there have been hints that news will also be delivered along with the aircraft. Of course, this particular A380 is news in itself because when it begins service in December, it will be the first “hotel in the sky” with include an ultra-premium, two-person “Residence” class along with first-class “Apartments.”  

Etihad revealed its A380 cabin configuration in May, modeling it on the hotel/corporate jet market.

Located on the forward upper deck of the A380, the self-contained Residence holds two people and comprises a private living room, double bedroom, bathroom and shower. The product, which also includes a Savoy-trained personal butler, will cost $20,000 one-way between Abu Dhabi and London for single- or double-occupancy. Effectively a fourth class, only one Residence will be fitted on each A380, measuring 125 sq. ft.

On the opposite side of the A380 forward fuselage, there is a shower and changing room for first-class Apartment guests. Each A380 will be configured with nine 39 sq. ft. Apartments (six will have interconnecting doors), arranged either side of a central aisle to give more space back to the passenger. They are equipped with a separate arm chair and bed, a private mini bar and a sliding door.

This mother-of-all airline services even comes with its own butlers, who have been specially trained for the job at the Savoy. Etihad has a total of 10 A380s on order and will launch services on its Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow route before taking it to ultra-long haul flights.

Etihad CEO James Hogan and Airbus president and CEO Fabrice Bregier are both due to speak at today’s ceremonies in Hamburg.

The A320neo, meanwhile performed its first takeoff Thursday as planned, marking off a key stage for the re-engined twinjet program. MSN6101, carrying the tail number F-WNEO, took off from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport at 1200 local time. MSN6101 entered production in March and was rolled out in July.

The neo, a fuel-efficient version of the A320 family, has proved a successful venture for Airbus, with over 3,200 orders from 60 customers logged to date. Enthusiasm for re-engined airliners is such that Boeing subsequently launched the 737 MAX, a direct rival to the A320neo, and in July under pressure from customers, Airbus launched the A330neo.

The question now is whether Airbus will also launch a neo version of the A380? I personally think the answer is yes, but not for a while. With the A320neo, A330neo and new A350XWB programs all active along with ramped up production rates, Airbus has plenty to concentrate on for now.

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