Last week, a 20-million plus megalopolis – in fact the world’s third largest city, received the world’s biggest aircraft, the Airbus A380.
Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport is already at capacity with over 38 million passengers annually, but on January 12, Air France became the first airline to operate the biggest passenger aircraft in the world to Mexico City and in doing also offered the first scheduled service ever of an A380 to Latin America.
Over eight years after its first introduction by Singapore Airlines, the A380 has become an everyday sight at many airports in the world. In Mexico City though, the giant’s first scheduled arrival still mobilized thousands of people in the streets around the airport and workers on the tarmac, as well as making headlines in local media.
Until March 26, Air France will operate the A380 on this route only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with daily services from Paris-CDG starting on March 27, finally replacing the Boeing 777-300 and, until recently, the now phased-out Boeing 747-400.
Persistent rumour in Mexico has it that Lufthansa is going to replace its current Boeing 747-8 service from Frankfurt with the A380 as well from early 2017.
For Air France, bringing the double-decked giant to Mexico was an uphill struggle.
“It took us one year to get a commitment from the airport, the infrastructure wasn’t ready before”, says Air France’s Director General for Mexico, Eric Caron. In fact, the airport is hardly ready today, as passengers on the first flights were unhappily witnessing. Although the airport has installed an upper deck boarding bridge on gate 34 of the older Terminal 1, the boarding process was a messy affair, resulting in delayed departures from the gate.
But the real challenge comes only then, as many taxiways in Mexico City are too narrow for the A380. Once under way on its own engines, a Follow Me-car has to guide the giant towards the runways on a circuitous route around the fairly compact airport, taking a full 25 minutes of taxi time on the ground before take-off, resulting in further delay.
In terms of on-board product, Air France offers currently a fairly uneven mix on the Mexico route - some of the B777-300s coming here have the superb new full-flat seats, a total of 30 jets of this type have been modernised by now, says the airline, with 14 more 777-200s and -300s to follow by early 2017. Then there are still the older B777 cabins around with an angled lie-flat seat as well as the A380, which has an upgraded version of the angled seat. Air France has hinted it will refurbish the A380 cabins some time in 2017 or 2018, giving it still a different look and feel than the newest current 777-300s.