Why Airbus Should Keep Making the A380
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
The Airbus A380 earned a lot of buzz when it was first used for commercial service in 2007. The double decker’s sheer size (it can fit 525 passengers in three classes) and glitzy premium class cabins made it the heir apparent to the dated Boeing 747.
Now, however, the trend is for airlines to purchase smaller, more efficient long-haul planes like the A350 and Boeing 787. Does this mean that the A380’s days are numbered? Based on other current industry trends, it looks like the giant plane should be able to carve out a niche in the commercial air travel industry.
Only one airline is betting on the A380
Emirates is one airline that has made the A380 the backbone of its fleet. The Gulf carrier has received more than 80 of the giant planes and flies them on many of its busiest long-haul routes. Singapore Airlines has a comparatively modest 19 A380s in its fleet, and no other carrier currently operates more than a dozen.
Some airlines are balking at adding to their A380 fleets. Qantas exercised an option to defer the delivery of eight A380s that it had ordered. The Australian flag carrier already has 12 of the giant planes in its fleet, but that appears to be enough for it for the time being.
That does not mean that Qantas will try to dump its dozen A380s anytime soon. They are still relatively new, so it should be at least 10 years before the airline is ready to order replacements.
The Emirates model
There are two reasons to bet against the demise of the A380. First, more and more airlines appear to be trying to emulate Emirates. The Dubai-based carrier has been crushing the competition on some of the world’s busiest long-haul routes.
The A380 provides the capacity that allows Emirates to offer competitive fares. Yes, the four-engine plane costs more to operate than a lighter two-engine model like the A350 or 777, but those planes have a lower capacity, meaning that it would take multiple flights to match the number of seats that Emirates can offer with one A380 flight.
Demand expected to rise
The demand for international air travel is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, and airlines with the A380s in their stables will have an advantage on the busiest routes for the reason I've just mentioned. Even low-cost carriers could be interested in an all-economy-class A380. This version seats more than 800 people.
Airbus is making a special version of the A330 that will be used for regional flights on high traffic routes. It could potentially do the same thing with the A380. Some of the busiest domestic routes in China and India would have enough demand that flying a one-class or two-class version of the A380 could be very profitable.
More room to create more classes
This leads us to another trend that is working in the A380's favor: airlines are trying to maximize revenue by segmenting their planes into multiple classes. The push to add premium economy seating is an example of this. Because of its sheer size, future versions of the A380 could provide a number of different class setups that include knees-to-chin below-economy class, premium economy, first-class private suites and everything in between.
So while orders for four-engine planes are currently sluggish, there could eventually be enough demand for Airbus to continue producing the A380 in the future.
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