Air Transport World

It's here!(LARGE TRANSPORTS)(Industry overview)

"WE'RE GLAD WE WAITED FOR THE DC-8." TH AT WAS how legendary United Airlines President William (Pat) Patterson dismissed the carrier's agonizing and costly ninemonth delay in entering the jet age when he accepted its first DC-8 in September 1959 from longtime friend Donald Douglas Sr. Indeed, Patterson was all smiles when he was able to order the far more capable Super 60 series DC-8 just a few years later, and United was able to re-engine those DC-8s and sell them for a handsome price for conversion to freighters with most still flying today--40 years on.

It is certain that on Oct. 15, Singapore Airlines CEO Chew Choon Seng will be hoping that his carrier's experience with the A380 will mirror UA's success with the DC-8 as he accepts the symbolic keys to the first aircraft, MSN003, some 18 months behind schedule.

Likewise for Airbus, the entry into service for SIA and next year Emirates and Qantas well may define the level of success for the A380, which has struggled to garner new orders since it rolled out in January 2005. Just two new customers, China Southern and Kingfisher, have committed to it since then, while FedEx and UPS have cancelled their freighter orders. Total orders have climbed from 122 passenger variants and 27 freighters at rollout to 174 passenger models for 14 customers (all 27 freighters have been cancelled), a net gain of 25 over 34 months.

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Of course, in the airline industry there have been many aircraft that had difficult births and went on to success. The DC-8, dubbed by many the DC-Late, eventually blitzed the 707 in performance and forced Boeing to build the 747 prematurely to counter the Super DC-8. The 747's birth pains are well documented and almost bankrupted Boeing, Pan Am and Pratt and Whitney. So perhaps in 10-15 years the A380 will be described with the same passion and affection as the Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower, two of many global icons that were bedeviled by controversy during their early years.

The industry also has seen many aircraft that captured passengers' imaginations with sometimes small features. Boeing's 377 Stratocruiser was a big favorite because of its intimate lower-deck lounge while the Viscount was Europe's most successful airliner up until the formation of Airbus owing to its huge picture windows and propjet speed and quiet in the 1950s. The jet and jumbo eras caused passenger numbers to soar because of speed, comfort and the lowering of airfares.

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With the A380, the aircraft's silky smooth handling qualities, ultra-low cabin noise levels and enormous capacity spread over two full decks give it an edge. …

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