A view from the flight deck: Captain James Basnett. Photo: Nick Morrish

Faster Flying

Jumbo versus Super-Jumbo

British Airways Captain James Basnett has piloted the original Jumbo – the Boeing 747 – and is now taking the helm of the Super-Jumbo, the Airbus A380, the newest member of the airline’s fleet. Phil Heard tracked him down to ask about the differences between the two giants of the sky.

How do the two aircraft compare?

For starters they’re both very large. The 747 carries up to 345 passengers while the new A380 has space for 469.

The A380 is quieter than the jumbo and more than 25 per cent heavier, yet it handles in much the same way as a much smaller aircraft. The Super Jumbo also burns less fuel per passenger.

Is the flight deck the same?

The A380’s flight deck is virtually paperless as the charts and manuals, to which the pilots need quick access, have been replaced by a computer. There’s also a better weather radar system that shows the height and depth of storms, which means we can navigate more effectively around bad weather and turbulence.

What about the steering?

The 747 has a central control column designed to be operated with both hands, while the A380’s flight controls are operated by a small joystick set slightly in front of the pilots’ seats towards the outside of the aircraft.

On the Jumbo, we manipulate cables and pulleys that operate hydraulics, while on the A380, electrical signals are transmitted through a wire – hence the phrase ‘fly by wire’.

How do you find your way to the arrival gate?

As well as a type of satnav-map display, which we have for most airports, the A380 has cameras on its underside and on the top of the tail to help pilots negotiate some of the tight corners.

Where are the pilot rest areas?

On the 747 there are bunks and a bathroom all contained within the flight deck, whereas on the A380 they’re tucked behind the flight deck into a mezzanine between the upper and lower decks. We have a mini bathroom and two sleep pods, each containing a seat and a bed for rest during long flights.

So, the big question. Which plane do you prefer to fly?

That’s a tough one! Even with all the A380’s technological advances, the 747 is seen by many pilots as the original queen of the skies, partly because it’s a joy to fly but also because it looks graceful. But in my opinion, the A380 pips the 747 to the post.

BA’s new A380 now flies to Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and will start flying to Johannesburg in February and Washington from September. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is currently operating to Toronto and Newark, and will fly to Austin from 3 March, Hyderabad from 30 March, Chengdu from 5 May, Philadelphia from 5 June and Calgary from 5 July.