The Airbus A380 blasted into the aviation world as the largest passenger aircraft ever to hit the skies. Continuing its mantle as the biggest commercial plane on the market today, the hefty double-decker has the capacity to fly 525 passengers in a three-class configuration and up to 853 in a single-class configuration. With a range of 8300 nautical miles, the A380 also claims the lowest fuel burn per seat and generates less noise pollution on departure and landing.
Earlier this year, a confident Airbus increased the list price of its A380 by 8.4% to a steep $375.3 million. According to the manufacturer, this hike is largely as a result of the aircraft’s previously underestimated revenue generating performance. With its huge capacity potential, the A380 can be used to reduce the number of flights necessary whilst maintaining airline capacity or even offering more capacity with fewer take-off slots. Airbus promises that with the model due for overhaul and improvement in the future, its revenue potential will rise even further. Clearly the aviation industry is acquiescing as the manufacturer has seen demand for its superjumbo rocketing.
But what is it that makes the A380 such an attractive proposition? Richard Carcaillet, Airbus’ head of marketing for the A380, believes the aircraft has been a key contributor to the aviation industry’s growth. “The A380 offers 40% more seats than a Boeing 747 at a much lower unit cost and environmental impact,” he claims. “Besides achieving a sustainable growth for airlines, it offers more comfort to passengers thanks to the best cabin in the sky, providing more space and more silence contributing to the best travel experience in all classes.” With each of these benefits, the A380 has proven to be what Carcaillet terms ‘a passenger magnet’ from day one. “The airlines have reported higher load factors with respect to the aircraft it replaced, demonstrating that passengers are actively seeking the A380 flights for their trips,” says Carcaillet. “This ‘A380 effect’ continues even four years after the entry into service, since passengers who have flown it feel the difference and want to repeat the experience.”
At present there are 58 of the aircraft in operation, shared amongst seven customers – Emirates Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Air France and China Southern Airlines. Top of the list, Dubai’s national airline Emirates holds fifteen superjumbos in its fleet, with Australian carrier Qantas following closely behind having taken delivery of ten of its twenty ordered aircraft. But this gap is due to widen sharply as Emirates has a staggering 90 of the aircraft on order. So far this year, Airbus has delivered 14 A380s - one each to Singapore Airlines and China Southern Airlines; two for Air France; three apiece to Qantas and Korean Air; and four for Lufthansa. But its order sheet reflects the growing popularity of the aircraft with other global airlines, totalling 236 orders in the year thus far. Other big names keen to get aboard the
A380 include British Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Skymark Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. In the Middle East, regional leaders Qatar Airways and Etihad are gearing up to join their Emirati neighbour and emerge as another notch in the A380’s belt. Qatar Airways signed an order for five additional A380s and three on option at last month’s Dubai Airshow. The five new A380s will double the number of the airline’s super jumbos already in the delivery pipeline, taking firm orders up to 10 aircraft. Deliveries are due to begin in 2013. Abu-Dhabi’s Etihad, on the other hand, has ordered 10 A380s, with deliveries from 2014 onwards. The carrier actually delayed the first handover to take advantage of recently-implemented modifications, with chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner promising a breakthrough in terms of the aircraft’s utilisation.