Dwindling Orders: Can 'A380plus' Save the Super Jumbo?
Following dwindling orders for its super jumbo aircraft, Airbus has presented a development study for an enhanced A380 to make the aircraft more attractive to potential airlines.
Dubbed the “A380plus”, the study which was presented at the just concluded Paris Air Show, includes aerodynamic improvements involving new and larger winglets and other wing refinements that allow for up to 4% fuel burn savings.
The new winglets which measure approximately 4,7 metres in height (an uplet of 3.5m, and a downlet of 1,2m), is designed to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag.
According to the European aircraft manufacturing giant, in addition to an optimized A380 maintenance programme and the enhanced cabin features first shown at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in April this year, the overall benefit of the A380plus is a 13% cost per seat reduction versus today’s A380.
The optimized cabin layout based on the ‘cabin enablers’ allows Airbus to add up to 80 additional seats, redesigned stairs, a combined crew-rest compartment, sidewall stowage removal, a new 9-abreast seat configuration in premium economy and 11-abreast in economy.
The A380plus will have an increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 578 tonnes providing the flexibility of carrying up to 80 more passengers over today’s range (8,200nm), or flying 300nm further.
The A380 is the world’s largest and most spacious commercial airliner with two full widebody decks but has largely remained unattractive to most airlines since it was launched in 2000. Sales of the super jumbo have since dried up.
There are presently 317 firm orders of the A380 by 19 customers of which 213 have been delivered to 13 of those customers. Emirates is by far the world's largest operator of the A380 with 95 of them in operation.
Recently, Airbus lowered the production rates of the A380 to 1/month due to lack of orders and very weak backlog. Airbus will decide later this year weather to further lower production rates below 1/mo in 2019, according to its officials at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Cancun, Mexico earlier in June.
“Yes, it’s likely we may have to go below rate one”. We will continue to study possibilities to go below rate one while keeping the program [at break even] on the financial side.” said Didier Evrard, EVP Programmes.
The three big Middle Eastern airlines including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways which are currently the largest users of the airplane with a combined A380 fleet of 110, are in difficult times due to economic meltdown in addition to the recent laptop ban.
In December, 2016, Emirates which saw a steep drop in profit its latest financials, for the first time, deferred the delivery of six Airbus A380s from 2017 to 2018 and postponed the delivery of another six A380s from 2018 to 2019.
Currently, 497 passengers is the airline’s average capacity of the A380s currently in operation, but according to Airbus, with all A380 cabin enablers, the A380 average seat count would move from 497 to 575 in four classes, and generate significantly more revenue for airlines.
Due to high operational costs, airlines have been shunning four-engine aircraft in favour of more efficient twin-engine aircraft like the Airbus A350, Boeing 787, Boeing 777 and the forthcoming Boeing 777X.
The A380plus is Airbus's latest attempt to revive the dying airliner. However, without new engine option and just new and larger winglets and more seats, it remains to be seen whether the A380plus will be enough to save the Airbus A380 and give it a new lease of life.