No, the world’s largest airliner isn’t getting any bigger. Airbus has just found a way to cram more seats onto it.
In a business that is driven by factors such as “cost per seat” and reductions in fuel burn, Airbus is pitching the A380plus to fleets who are already starting to sour on the A380, as wide-body twins become more economical. From an Airbus media release touting the A380Plus, we get this:
The optimised cabin layout based on the ‘cabin enablers’ presented at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), allows up to 80 additional seats* with no compromise on comfort: redesigned stairs, a combined crew-rest compartment, sidewall stowage removal, a new 9-abreast seat configuration in premium economy and 11-abreast in economy.
Eleven-abreast in economy. Let that sink in for a second. That’s a 3-5-3 setup where you might get stuck in the middle seat with two of your closest strangers on either side of you for 14 hours. Just what does 80 additional seats mean?
497 passengers is the airline’s average capacity of the A380s currently in operation today – which are consistently attracting above-average passenger load factors. 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.
They’ve also come up with something called “Premium Economy” for those of you who are fans of oxymorons. This is a 9-across arrangement, so there are two seat extra seat widths to share amongst your friends. IT’s up to the airlines to figure out how much more that room will cost. Other savings will be gained from the winglets shown in the photo, which are more than 15 feet tall. They are projected to offer a 4% savings in fuel burn. That doesn’t sound like much, but overall, it’s significant. And extended maintenance intervals will also offer savings to operators.
Interest in the A380plus has been tepid at best, particularly from Emirates, the world’s largest operator of the A380. And it’s also telling the Emirates recently placed an order for 40 787 Dreamliners to go along with the 150 777s it has on order, as they try to strong-arm Airbus into keeping the A380 production line open for 10 more years. The market for the super jumbo may just be starting to dry up, and it’s still entirely likely that the A380 will never turn a profit for Airbus.