Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

But Will It Take Off?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

But Will It Take Off?

Article excerpt

Byline: ALISON TYLER

WITH a fanfair of flashing lights and falling balloons, the Airbus A380, or "the superjumbo", as it has been dubbed, finally made its debut in Toulouse this week.

While European leaders were quick to hail the success of the doubledecker leviathan - it holds up to 850 passengers - sales of the [pounds sterling]140 million plane haven't taken off as hoped. So far, 150 planes have been ordered; 250 must be sold for Airbus to break even.

Meanwhile, costs have soared. At [pounds sterling]5.5 billion, the superjumbo project is currently [pounds sterling]1 billion over budget.

But irrepressible entrepreneur Richard Branson remains optimistic about the A380s. Referring to his plans to put casinos and double beds on board his fleet of six A380s, he says his passengers have "two chances to get lucky".

Other airlines are planning to introduce private rooms for firstclass passengers, bars and lounges.

Londoners will be among the first to try out the new plane next year when Singapore Airlines launches its inaugural service from London to Sydney, via Singapore.

Virgin will launch its A380 service in 2008. It is anxious that airports adapt to carry the aircraft, which is no small task. Bigger departure lounges will be required for the extra passengers; new double-decker jetways and larger standing bays are also needed.

However, there is good news: the planes are quieter and more fuelefficient, making air travel less damaging to the environment.

Airbus claims that fuel consumption per passenger (three litres per 100km) is less than that of a small car. Costs are also lower overall, though whether the 10-20 per cent saving will be passed on to passengers is yet to be seen.

Despite the criticism, in a world where air congestion now rivals the M25 in the rush-hour, this could be just what bottleneck airports such as Heathrow - expected to become the main hub for the A380 - have been crying out for.

Called to the bar

While others bombard us with the usual New Year adverts for detoxes, gym membership and other healthy-but-dull diets, Malmaison London has taken the opposite approach, bravely revamping and expanding its bar in January. "The new bar is sexier, with a bordello-like feel," says CEO Robert Cook. But why the expansion? Apparently we Londoners just like a drink too much and the old bar was overflowing - with people as well as pints.

Sofitel St James reports a similar problem.

"We underestimated how much the British drink," confirms the hotel's French GM.

. Eat or drink at any of Malmaison's bars and brasseries on 26 January and 50 per cent of your bill will go to the Tsunami Appeal (0845 365 4247, www.malmaison.com).

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