TOULOUSE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) has picked up its first Airbus A-380 that features brand new seats, in-flight entertainment screens and other cabin products, to meet the growing demands and expectations of customers in a highly competitive industry.
The product upgrades are the first for SIA's superjumbo since the airline started flying the double-decker jet 10 years ago.
The reconfigured cabin in the superjumbo has an increased emphasis on premium economy. Of the 471 seats, there are six ultra-first class suites, 78 in business class, 44 in the premium economy cabin and 343 economy seats. SIA's current fleet of A-380s has up to 441 seats each, with 36 premium economy seats and 333 economy class seats.
SIA, which will receive another four new A-380s by the middle of 2018, will be progressively retrofitting 14 existing A-380s to ensure a similar product across the fleet.
The upgrading works being done by Airbus will be completed by the end of 2020.
SIA's new A-380 will be deployed first, on the Singapore-Sydney route, on Dec 18.
Airbus chief executive Tom Enders was among more than 100 Airbus staff and other guests who were at Toulouse's Blagnac Airport, to give Singapore Airlines Flight SQ8898 a grand send-off.
The aircraft, with almost 100 passengers on board, including SIA and Airbus staff and partners, as well as journalists, is due to depart at 2pm (9pm Singapore time) on Wednesday on its journey to Changi Airport.
In the cockpit were Captain Yeo Boon Ling and Captain Allan Ong, as well as Senior First officers Bong Kwee Wee and Gerald Tan.
Before the flight could take off, the aircraft had to pass two rounds of checks by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) officials, who made two separate trips to Toulouse in recent weeks.
The first was focused on the aircraft interiors to ensure that the new products met CAAS' safety requirements, for example, ensuring that there is enough space for passenger evacuation during an emergency.
The final inspection, done just last week, included checks on flight test reports and critical aircraft areas such as overall fuselage, cargo compartment and landing gears.
Mr Mak Swee Wah, SIA's executive vice-president (commercial) who was at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, to collect the new aircraft on Wednesday, spoke of the airline's long and strong ties with Airbus.
The relationship dates back to 1979, when the airline bought its first Airbus aircraft.
On top of the new A-380s that SIA will be collecting in the coming months, the airline also has 48 more A350-900s on order, seven of which will be the newest ultra-long-range variant, the A350-900ULR.
The A-380 product upgrades and the introduction of new more efficient aircraft to the fleet, is part of SIA's strategy to grow market share and boost earnings which have come under pressure from intense competition.
Beyond aircraft orders, SIA and Airbus are also business partners, Mr Mak said.
In 2016, Airbus and SIA's subsidiary SIA Engineering Company signed an agreement to form a joint venture based in Singapore.
SIA and Airbus also jointly operate a pilot training centre in Singapore.
Mr Enders noted that the A-380 has been "a huge commercial success" for SIA, flying passengers efficiently and in comfort on the airline's long haul and regional network.