Air Austral finally gets an A380 to fly its passengers between Paris and Reunion Island. The carrier was one of the earliest airlines to order the A380, with expectations of an 800+ passenger configuration to shuttle travelers back and forth on the 11 hour flight. That order fell apart but thanks to Hi Fly and the Rolls-Royce Trent engine issues on the 787s Air Austral is ready to fly the super jumbo. One of its Dreamliners will be grounded starting this week and the A380 will fill in for it, similar to how Norwegian used the type between London-Gatwick and JFK earlier in the month.
For Air Austral the A380 presents challenges in routes and in airports serviced. The company’s hub at Dzaoudzi Pamandzi International Airport in Mayotte lacks facilities for the A380 to fly in and the aircraft is “too large” to service smaller/regional destinations like Bangkok from La Reunion. Passengers previously scheduled to fly between Mayotte and Paris will be rerouted via La Reunion during the period and extra flights will be added between Mayotte and La Reunion to accommodate those reroutes. The first A380 trip for Air Austral will be the southbound departure from Paris-Charles de Gaulle on 24 August. The service appears set to run through September 8, 2018 based on published flight schedules.
Air Austral has had more time to get the flight set up and properly loaded into its systems than Norwegian did, circumstances that make the substitution far easier and clearer for the carrier to manage versus the prior efforts. Passengers will know in advance what they’re up against rather than finding out last minute about the swaps. That also makes it far less likely that travelers will be able to buy cheap upgrades to first class suites on board, but overall it is still probably better news than not for the company. Even without cheap upgrades the A380 running in the old Singapore Airlines configuration will be spectacularly luxurious compared to the typical Air Austral layout.
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As for the A380 hopes of Air Austral, the current 777/787 long-haul operation is likely far better suited to demand in the markets, particularly with French Bee, Corsair and Air France offering competition to Paris and XL Airways via Marseilles. All of the carriers use higher density aircraft cabins (French Bee is one of the only airlines going 3-4-3 in the economy cabin on its A350) so keeping cost per passenger low is certainly a key goal, something the A380 delivers well on when full. But that’s also a lot of capacity moving back and forth every day. Adding a few hundred more seats might not go over so well.
Then again, if the company discovers that this setup works it should have little trouble finding a couple more used A380s on the market, likely pretty cheap.
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