June 06, 2013
Airbus is working with its airline customers to find ways to add up to 10% in capacity in the economy- and business-class cabins of the A380 without compromising comfort levels, executives said at the Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse.
“Airlines are not using the full capacity of the A380,” says Senior Vice President Marketing Chris Emerson. To resolve this, the manufacturer is talking to operators about a three class lay-out seating 560 passengers.
In spite of the pressure on long-haul yields, eight of the nine current A380 operators have been using the aircraft in lower density lay-outs than specified by Airbus. The manufacturer’s nominal seat count for the aircraft in a typical three-class configuration stands at 525 seats, but only Lufthansa exceeds that, with 526 seats. Other carriers are way below: Singapore Airlines has versions with 409 and 471 seats, Korean Air is the lowest density operator at 407 seats, Qantas Airways offers 450- or 484-seat configurations. Emirates Airline, by far the largest A380 customer, has two different versions depending on stage lengths: The long-haul variant has seating for 489 passengers, the higher density lay-out is designed for 517 passengers.
The cabin arrangements are changing to use the available space more efficiently. More operators are now moving the first-class cabin to the front of the upper deck, which is narrower than the main deck and more suitable for the four abreast configuration in first.
Airlines had been hesitant to move first-class upstairs mainly because they were concerned that they would put their most valuable customers into the noisiest part of the cabin—Airbus says that is because of earlier experience with the Boeing 747—and because direct boarding into the upper deck was initially not available at many airports.
While the staircase area leading to the upper deck actually is among the noisiest zones in the aircraft, the area immediately behind it is not. And more and more airports are now offering direct upper deck access.
The configuration changes also include taking the crew rest compartment out of the cargo hold and putting it in the rear of the upper deck. With the more efficient use of the lower deck in an all-economy lay-out, the overall seat count does not change, according to Airbus. But the new arrangement frees up more room for cargo.
The currently deployed fleet is largely operating between Asia, the Middle East and Europe. There are 116 weekly one-way frequencies from Asia to Europe, 98 from the Middle East to Europe and 42 from the Middle East to Asia. Airlines operate 70 frequencies inside Asia.
A380 penetration into North America is much weaker, with only 28 weekly flights to the U.S. from Asia and 42 from Europe. And there is not a single A380 flight into Latin America, although Airbus anticipates this will change over the next two years. Infrastructure constraints at Sao Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport in Brazil, the obvious entry point of the aircraft into Latin America, have been the main barrier. Airlines and Airbus hope that the planned upgrades to the airport ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics will allow at least some A380 traffic into the continent’s biggest hub airport.