Why The A380 Was King At London Heathrow

While it may not seem the way today, just a year ago, one particular aircraft type was king of London Heathrow. Indeed, most of the world’s Airbus A380 operators have flown the type to London’s primary airport at some point or another.

London Heathrow, Airbus A380, Perfect Aircrfat
London Heathrow is one airport where the Airbus A380 was really in its element. Photo: Getty Images

Around the world, the Airbus A380 is currently facing a reasonably grim reality. With passenger numbers expected to remain depressed for the coming years, most of the global fleet remains grounded. However, even before the current situation, the aircraft had a relatively niche application. This, in part, led to Airbus ending the A380 program for good last February. However, there were a couple of airports where the type stood out.

10% of Heathrow passengers

Back when the A380 was a more common sight in the skies, a handful of major A380 hubs saw more A380 flights than any others. Obviously, Dubai had the most as Emirates’ hub. However, others such as Frankfurt, Los Angeles, and London Heathrow claimed the most A380 operators.

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Indeed, out of 15 A380 operators, 11 have flown the aircraft into the capital’s aviation hub. Rather than list the A380 operators that have flown the type into Heathrow at one point or another, it would be easier to list those who haven’t. Asiana Airlines, ANA, Hi Fly, and Lufthansa. What is interesting is just how many passengers these aircraft were carrying.

London Heathrow, Airbus A380, Perfect Aircraft
The aircraft’s first trip to Heathrow was in 2006, before the first aircraft was delivered to Singapore Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

But how do we know that the A380 was so crucial at Heathrow? According to Airbus, in 2014, 6% of all passengers at Heathrow came or left in an A380. This rose to 8% in 2015 and 10% in 2016.

Perfect for slot constrained hubs

While also partly responsible for its downfall, one of the main selling points of the A380 was its massive capacity. Indeed, the British Airways A380 would carry 469 passengers across two decks. Meanwhile, the airline’s 777s will take just 299. While not equalling two fully loaded 777s, the A380 makes it a decent way in trying.

London Heathrow, Airbus A380, Perfect Aircraft
The A380’s huge capacity meant that airlines could condense flights to open more slots. Photo: Getty Images

The aircraft’s high capacity means that airlines can consolidate two flights that may be operated by smaller jets to the same destination into one flight. This, in turn, opens up an additional slot for the airline.

However, relying on such an aircraft does have downsides, especially for most airlines with a small fleet of 10-12 aircraft. If a fully booked aircraft can’t depart for whatever reason, it is not as easy to substitute the aircraft.

London Heathrow, Airbus A380, Perfect Aircraft
Of course, it’s not the easiest fix if a fully loaded A380 goes out of service. Photo: Getty Images

Moving back to the British Airways example, previously, its next largest aircraft was the Boeing 747 with a capacity of up to 345 passengers. For a fully booked Airbus A80, this still leaves a surplus of over 100 passengers.

Do you think the Airbus A380 was in its element at busy slot constrained airports like London Heathrow? Let us know what you think and why in the comments.