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The A380 — an aircraft ahead of its time

Superjumbo ideally suited for routes to slot congested major airports and as a hub-and-spoke aircraft for long-haul operations

Gulf News

In 2015, the Airbus A380 will celebrate the ten-year anniversary of its first flight and eight years in service, and the best years may still be ahead for this aircraft, a unique position for a plane that sits at the top of the commercial aircraft market.

With seating for more than 550 passengers in typical 3 and 4 class configurations, the A380 is ideally suited for routes to slot congested major airports, and for airlines that can fill the aircraft, as a hub-and-spoke aircraft for long-haul operations. To date, each of these markets is small relative to the industry as a whole, but are projected to grow substantially over the next decade.

With 13 current customers operating 156 aircraft, the programme has been a commercial success. Emirates, the largest A380 operator, has 59 A380s in service, an additional 81 on order, and has expressed strong interest in a re-engined and more efficient neo model.

With global traffic continuing to grow at a strong pace, and airport capacity lagging traffic growth in many regions, the need for larger aircraft will become a necessity for airports such as London’s Heathrow. British Airways recently replaced three daily flights from London to Los Angeles using 747-400 aircraft with two daily A380 flights. Their overall capacity remained virtually identical, but costs dropped by 30 per cent, while also freeing an additional slot at Heathrow for another route.

There are currently 42 cities with 10,000 or more long-haul passengers per day, but this is projected to grow to 90 cities by 2032. These mega-cities have airport constraints — yet 90 per cent of all long-haul traffic is between them. The market will demand larger aircraft in the future, and the A380 is well positioned to accommodate that growth.

Emirates airline has demonstrated the effectiveness of the A380 for hub and spoke operations through hub in Dubai. Capitalising on passenger preference for this aircraft, Emirates has built a strong network using the A380, and we now see Gulf competitors Etihad and Qatar also choosing to add the A380 in their networks. The Etihad “apartment” that is beyond first class reflects the flexibility of the A380 cabin, and the scope for airlines to customise the floor plan to match their markets and needs.

The A380 is not for everyone, and we certainly don’t expect a rapid neo announcement to suddenly generate demand for hundreds of new aircraft. But demand could double quite easily from the existing 317 firm orders for the programme and generate new momentum as carriers select and deploy the A380 on routes for which it makes economic sense.

— The writer is partner at AirInsight, the US-based aviation consultancy

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