British Airways Prepares for the A380

With British Airways set to receive its first Airbus A380 in July, the airline has taken delivery of two Douglas TBL 600 towbarless tractors to handle the giant jet. Tom Allett reports.

Although the Airbus A380 is a relatively common sight at London’s Heathrow Airport, British Airways (BA) will become the type’s first European operator when it receives the first of its 12 airframes in July.  Its next two A380s are scheduled to arrive in August and October.
The aircraft, configured for 469 seats, will be the largest and heaviest in the BA fleet, hence the need for more powerful tow-tractors.  Both units were delivered in October 2012.
Kuldeep Nothey, BA’s Head of Heathrow Operations told Airports International: “Tractors from three different companies were evaluated and other aviation organisations were consulted as part of our thorough tender process.
“A panel of six British Airways managers from around the airline was involved in the process.  We wanted to ensure the best fit for British Airways, and Douglas Tractor was selected for a number of reasons including performance, feedback from staff, price, after-sales support, training and compatibility with current operational procedures.
“These tractors will be a direct replacement for our Douglas TBL400s,
currently used for our Boeing 777 and 747 fleets, which means the TBL600s will provide greater flexibility and efficiency, as they will handle our existing aircraft as well as the A380s.”
Mr Nothey added that both of BA’s new Douglas TBL600 towbarless tractors are equipped with additional safety features, including a ‘cradle open’ warning system, keyless start (vehicle key control) and an in-cab intercom system to provide better communications.
Of course the introduction of new equipment demands staff training.  BA’s ramp equipment line trainers have already received instructions from Douglas about the TBL600 tractors and, with help from Airbus, were able to practise their skills on A380s.
Mr Nothey explained: “During this exercise it was apparent that there were no significant differences in terms of push-back or towing A380 aircraft [and other large airliners].”
British Airways has said it will announce which routes the new aircraft will operate in the spring, and Mr Nothey added: “We plan to have both of our TBL600 tractors in operation prior to our first A380 delivery so that our staff will be familiar with them and the push back/towing operation of Boeing 747/777 aircraft.”
He also said that the airline will look to add to its A380-capable tractor fleet in line with the delivery of its 12 aircraft.
Asked whether BA might be interested in handling other airline’s A380s at LHR he replied: “We have no plans to do so at this stage, as we are focussed on our own new aircraft delivery preparation.
“However we currently provide ground handling services to other carriers at Heathrow, including other oneworld alliance airlines, and we will review potential opportunities in the future.”