Airbus CEO John Leahy is claiming that United Airlines is likely to order the A380 according to a story being carried by Aviation Week. Putting aside the fact that they have been advertising the story with some incredibly misleading headlines suggesting that the order is imminent, there are still issues with the story. Not the least of which is that Leahy actually states that the order is not imminent, though he absolutely seems convinced that the order is coming.
I’m not saying there is an order soon, but United understands that if it wants to have a major presence in Asia it needs the A380.
Airbus has already given up on Delta; the company has indicated it will pursue a policy of smaller widebody aircraft, so United is the only North American carrier left for the manufacturer to try to bring on board.
That leaves United as our target.
There are so many things that don’t add up here. For starters, United has committed to ordering the A350-900. Assuming that shows up eventually it will meet the needs of a multi-hub carrier on many routes that the 747-400s currently operate on. And United has more A350s on order than they have 747s currently in service. On top of that, United has a whole bunch of 787 Dreamliner orders in the pipeline, with initial deliveries currently expected at some point next year.
The A380 is great if you have a huge number of customers that need to be moved between two points – namely hubs – and from which you will then move them on smaller planes after the fact to their eventual destination. The numbers seem to work quite nicely for single-hub carriers where all the passengers can be funneled through a single point. But an operation that has nine hubs needs more flexibility in terms of routes and frequencies.
On top of that, the implication that it is needed to provide service in Asia doesn’t seem to match United’s current route map or indicated plans. There are scarce few intra-Asia routes and those are mostly tag-ons. Replacing those with non-stop 787 service from North American gateways seems much more likely to actually address the demand than flying larger aircraft to the Tokyo hub or Hong Kong.
Oh, and Leahy’s observation that the US airports are already too crowded, while accurate, ignores the fact that much of that congestion is slot hoarding by regional aircraft, flights that are easy for the carriers to scrap if they decide they want to fly bigger aircraft, and the entire premise of the demand Leahy is drawing falls apart pretty quickly.
Oh, and if they really do want a bigger plane don’t forget there’s that Boeing 747-8i out there that is desperate to rack up a few sales to keep the program alive.
The headline certainly got a lot of attention and got folks to read the story, but that doesn’t mean an order is coming any time soon.
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