Published on March 2nd, 2020 | by FII Reader0
Flight of the Condor – An A380’s Final Flight
It’s not often an Airbus A380 visits Ireland, in fact none have landed at Dublin Airport to date and only a few times has this gigantic aircraft arrived at Shannon Airport. On those occasions, British Airways used Shannon as a training location and crew familiarisation airport with several of the airlines examples and an Air France A380 arrived at the airport due to technical problems some time ago.
One of Ireland’s smallest airports received an A380 on Thursday February 20th, as ex-Air France A380-861 (F-HPJB) touched down at Ireland West – Knock Airport at 16:12 on arrival from Dresden, Germany. It was a poignant moment as this could well be the end of the road for this particular 2010 year A380.
One of ten A380’s in the Air France fleet and the second delivered to the airline, it is the first to be retired from the French national airline. With many airliners enjoying flying careers twice or three times that of F-HPJB but due to its size the A380 is more sensitive to changing air travel trends which we are currently in the midst of.
In late November it was ferried to Malta where its former keepers titles were removed and a fresh coat of white paint applied. Leased from Dr. Peters Group, the aircraft is required be returned in perfect working order as per the lease agreement. F-HPJB was officially retired on December 31st last after completing its final revenue earning flight with Air France, flying Shanghai to Paris CDG. It then travelled to Dresden for additional technical attention.
It’s delivery to Knock Airport was delayed due in part to inclement weather with a string of storms blasting the region. Any fears about how the A380 would perform it’s landing at Knocks 2,340m runway, were laid to rest as the pilots made the difficult task appear simple. Stopping with plenty of asphalt distance in reserve, in a cloud of water vapour churned up by its four Engine Alliance GP7270 turbofan power plants. Being without passengers, luggage, possibly seats and presumably a light fuel load, factors all helping F-HPJB come to a full-stop well in advance.
Eirtrade Aviation Ltd. have acquired this aircraft with two schools of thought circulating as to the planes future. One is that F-HPJB will be dismantled and its valuables parted out for spares and its fuselage recycled. The second is that an owner might be found for the double-decker in which case it could fly again. Up to four ex Air France A380’s are earmarked for delivery to Knock Airport.
During its 1,000 mile, 2 hr 33 min flight from Dresden to Knock the flight crew of F-HPJB performed a number of flight system tests en route. Large numbers of enthusiasts and onlookers gathered at various vantage points around the runway perimeter, braving the bitterly cold and wet weather. Once entering Irish airspace its flight plan took the A380 north of Drogheda then south of Cavan town and just north of Carrick-On-Shannon it entered a holding pattern at 8,000ft and at 200 kts. This was to facilitate a departing Aer Lingus A320 from Knock Airport returning to London.
After a single loop rotation, F-HPJB received ATC clearance to begin its approach to Runway 26. Stopping with room to spare the A380 may have developed a nose wheel issue after its impressive landing. The taxiways at Knock were never going to permit an A380 to manoeuvre itself to its remote parking spot and a tug did the honours reversing it back up the runway onto the taxiway.
The majority of air traffic at Knock Airport tends to be B737’s, A320’s, Dash 8 Q400’s & ATR’s There have been occasions when B757’s and B767’s have visited the regional airport and in September 2000 the first ‘Jumbo’ to visit Knock, a B747-200 (TF-ATC) of Air Atlanta Icelandic performed a passenger service from Lourdes, France and again in June 2003 a second B747-200 (G-BDXG) ex-British Airways, carried 400+ people to the airport on pilgrimage to Knock.
The first two A380’s ever to be scrapped were both from Singapore Airlines (9V-SKA & 9V-SKB) and have been laid to rest at Tarbes Airport, Lourdes. The dismantling of the first of these involved a complicated process of delicate extraction of the most valuable components which took eleven months. Of the five A380’s retired to date from the Singapore Airlines fleet, one of these was acquired by HiFly (9H-MIP) and is the first pre-owned A380 to return to service with an airline. It now wears the stunning livery “Save the Coral Reefs” performing charter flights.
The largest operator of the A380 by far is Emirates Airlines with in excess of 115 flying for the airline at present. Two of these are to be removed from service and used as spares for the fleet. Emirates hope to fly the type till at least the year 2035.
The A380 didn’t find favour with US airlines with no sales state side and just three in Europe fly the type, these being the three main flag carriers of the nation’s contributing to its manufacture, Lufthansa with 14, British Airways with 12 and Air France having 10, the remainder are middle eastern and far eastern airlines and of course Qantas.
Around 250 of these giants have been manufactured by Airbus in less than twelve years and the run has reached the end. The final wings, produced by Airbus at Broughton in North Wales, set sail on the “Afon Dyfrdwy” barge down the River Dee to the port of Mostyn early in February, en route to Toulouse for final assembly.
As a means of transporting large passenger numbers across vast distances the A380 is unbeatable but restricted to serving larger airports with the infrastructure to accommodate the largest passenger aircraft. Viewing the latest A380 to fall from grace at a weather beaten West of Ireland regional airport creates mixed feelings. Spectacular to watch F-HPJB’s arrival through stormy conditions and the skilled flight crew bringing it to a halt on a less than generous runway.
There it sits, for the time being, awaiting most likely to be dismantled and returned to component form to aid other A380’s in their quest to continue flight. A noble sacrifice………….
Written by Aidan Nolan – Airliner Experience
A very special thanks to the following photographers whose images have been used in this article. Gerry Barron, Thomas Wachtel, Maarten Visser, Yumihiko Ogawa, Simon Brooke, Freek Blokzijl & Gunnar Kullenberg along with Ireland West – Knock Airport