Kicking off Day 0 of the Paris Air Show this year is Airbus’ presentation of a “development study” around launching the A380plus. That’s plus, not neo, as the updates will come mostly around internal engineering and NOT an upgrade to the engines. If all the improvements come to fruition the program is estimated by the airframer to drop the per-seat cost 13%.
Most visible on the effort is a new winglet project. The 4.7m tall tips will shave 4% off the fuel burn based on Airbus estimates. And a demo version is showing up in many photos across the internet as journalists flock to Le Bourget for the show; an A380 on property has the new winglets installed.
— Jean-Philippe LEMAIRE (@jpmach2) June 16, 2017
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) June 18, 2017
Alas, these are faux winglets, not real ones. The company installed them on MSN 004, a grounded model on static display in Paris as part of the aviation history museum at Le Bourget.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 18, 2017
Beyond the winglets Airbus promises improvements in maintenance cycles and a higher maximum take-off weight rating, allowing it to carry either 80 additional passengers or fly 300 nautical miles further than the current model.
The 80 extra seats on board come without stretching the frame. Various internal components will be shifted around and, if Airbus has its way, an extra seat will be added to each row in the economy (11-abreast) and premium economy (9-abreast) cabins. Moving the stairs and combining the crew rest bunks doesn’t bother me too much (though some cabin crews I spoke with are worried about the combined sleep bunks based on different schedules).
But adding the extra seat to each row could prove a game changer. And not in a good way. Airbus promises that the changes will require “no compromise on comfort.” Last time it tried to introduce the 11-abreast concept that did not hold. Maybe this will be better.
Read More: Whither the future of the A380?
There are also questions about the viability of selling those 80 extra seats on every flight. The lower per-seat costs are great, of course, but an airline needs to sell them for the profitability numbers to come through. Right now only Emirates is even in consideration for such a play and it has struggled to fill its existing A380s in many markets; some new deliveries are reported going into storage rather than into service while other deliveries are being delayed.
Finally, there is the question of whether any of this will ever happen. The company is clear that this is a study about whether to introduce the improvements, not a commitment to do so. Essentially Airbus needs Emirates (or another carrier, though that seems even less likely) to commit to the A380plus in order for the full concept to be realized. It is also unclear if the internal changes (i.e. more seats) can happen separately from the winglet work. Previously Airbus has talked about them separately so presumably it is possible, though likely with a range reduction if the MTOW increase and wingtip efficiency doesn’t happen.
Emirates has 40 open orders for the type remaining and is rumored to be in discussions to add to that. Perhaps converting some of the 40 and growing the backlog would be a sufficient deal for both sides.
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