Washington D.C. will get its first Airbus A380 service on June 6 when Air France starts daily flights between Paris and Washington Dulles International...

By Carole Shifrin, Contributing Editor

Washington D.C. will get its first Airbus A380 service on June 6 when Air France starts daily flights between Paris and Washington Dulles International Airport.

The Air France flights, using a brand-new, 516-seat A380, will feature four classes. The aircraft will be configured with nine seats in La Première (first class); 80 seats in Affaires-Business (business class); 38 seats in Premium Voyageur (premium economy); and 389 seats in the A380’s Voyageur (economy-class) cabin. There are more seats in the economy cabin alone than in most long-haul intercontinental aircraft.

Air France’s Premium Voyageur – located between Business and Economy – offers passengers 40 per cent more space than does Voyageur. Premium Voyageur provides fixed-shell seating for privacy, a 19-inch wide seat that reclines to 123 degrees, a 39.8-inch seat pitch, noise-canceling headsets, 10.4-inch screens, a PC outlet and a business-class amenity kit. Passengers also have priority check-in and boarding.

Air France's Premium Voyageur premium-economy cabins offer each passenger 40 per cent more personal space than in the airline's Voyageur economy class

Premium Voyageur, not yet on the Air France A380 serving New York JFK, offers business travelers who are not allowed to travel in Affaires-Business some business-class amenities nevertheless. Air France now offers its Premium Voyageur cabin on most of its long-haul aircraft, including its Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s and A340s.

The new A380 will also feature Air France’s new business class. Debuting throughout 2011 on other aircraft, the carrier’s new Affaires-Business cabin offers improved lie-flat seats; better connectivity, with USB ports and power; a new subdued, cabin ambience and more dining choices.

Washington will be Air France’s fifth A380 destination from Paris, It currently serves New York JFK, Tokyo and Johannesburg, and will be starting A380 service to Montreal on April 22. The carrier currently operates four Airbus A380s and is taking delivery of two more for the new Washington and Montreal flights.

Air France received its first Airbus A380 on October 3, 2009 and has a total of 12 on order. The carrier operates the type to New York JFK and – from June 6, 2011 – to Washington Dulles International Airport. Air France also is operating A380 services to Montreal from April 2011

Because the Airbus A380 seats so many more passengers than other long-haul aircraft, Air France will rationalize its capacity on its Washington D.C. and Montreal routes with the entry of the new airliner. Weekly frequencies between Paris and Montreal will decrease from 28 to 20 when the A380 starts services in April, and Washington frequencies will drop from 21 to 14 beginning June 6.

Washington Dulles is ready for service by the large-capacity, according to officials of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). The airport authority needed to design special jetbridges for the large, double-decker aircraft, install a new hydrant fuel pit for its refueling, and modify some taxiways, including relocating some lights and signs. The airport’s runways were long enough and strong enough for the plane.

An official for the MWAA said that when the airport’s underground Aero Train system was built to carry travelers between terminals, the structure of the tunnels was made strong enough so that no tunnel modifications would be necessary in order for them to bear the A380’s high weight.

Air France will use two adjacent gates for the A380 in the A concourse at Dulles – with gate A20 to be used for boarding lower-deck passengers and A22 for upper-deck passengers.

A flight attendant in Air France's La Première first-class cabin welcomes a customer and takes her coat

A test run of the A380-800 at Dulles was performed in March 2007, when Lufthansa brought the A380 to the airport during a series of route-proving flights. Lufthansa doesn’t currently operate the A380 to Washington.

Substantially larger than the Boeing 747-400, the four-engine, wide-body A380 is 239 feet  long, 80 feet high and has a wingspan of 262 feet. Inside, the cabin is 164 feet long on the main deck, 147 feet long on the upper deck.

The A380 first went into service in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines. Besides Air France and Lufthansa, it also is operated by Emirates and Qantas. Korean Air is scheduled to begin operating the A380 this year.

Carole Shifrin has been a Washington-based freelance writer for ten years. Her career includes 15 years at Aviation Week & Space Technology, where she served as Dallas Bureau Chief, London Bureau Chief and Senior Transport Editor, and 13 years as a staff writer at The Washington Post. Carole is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Lauren D. Lyman Award for distinguished, career-long achievement in aviation journalism.