New A380plus aims to prolong the life of endangered Airbus species

19 June, 2017

Airbus is presenting a development study for an enhanced A380, the “A380plus” in the hope of securing additional customer for the slow-selling aircraft. The study includes aerodynamic improvements in particular new, large winglets and other wing refinements that allow for up to 4% fuel burn savings. Added to an optimised A380 maintenance programme and the enhanced cabin features first shown at Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in April, the overall benefit is a 13% cost per seat reduction versus today’s A380.

The manufacturer hopes the improvements will help to stimulate further interest in the aircraft orders for which have stalled over recent years. John Leahy, Airbus chief operating officer customers, explains: “The A380plus is an efficient way to offer even better economics and improved operational performance at the same time.”

Airbus hopes the step change for the iconic aircraft will allow it to remain the best solution to serve worldwide fast-growing traffic. The A380 is well-proven as the solution to increasing congestion at large airports, but even Airbus has adjusted its own demand predictions for the very large aircraft market.

Back in the late 2000s as the A380 first entered service Airbus was predicting demand for more than 1,300 very large passenger aircraft over the subsequent 20 year period. However, its latest version of its annual Global Market Forecast has reduced this to just 1,184 units between 2017 and 2036, a number many analysts believe that still exaggerates the true demand for ultra-large airliners. The manufacturer predicts these aircraft will be delivered according to the following geographical split: Africa, 11; Asia-Pacific, 567; CIS, 21; Europe, 143; Latin America, 14; Middle East, 402; and North America, 26.

It is clear that the A380 works in specific markets and many airline executives told The Blue Swan Daily at the recent IATA AGM in Cancun, Mexico that airports are only going to get more congested, opening the door for larger aircraft to be deployed to maximise slots, albeit it could be decades until this translates into a real capacity problem. The value of the A380 at congested airports is already clear to see in the case of London Heathrow, perhaps the most globally recognised congested hub airport.

Data from OAG shows there are now up to 28 daily A380 departures from London Heathrow providing a 3.4% share of departures and 8.0% share of capacity during the summer 2017 schedule. These are operated by nine airlines: British Airways, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways International.

The aircraft type now accounts for more departure seats than any other widebody at the airport and is the third largest in terms of overall capacity behind the A319 and A320 that serve multiple daily short-haul sectors.

CHART - Largest Aircraft Capacity Offering at London Heathrow (weekly seats)Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG Schedules Analyser

The new developments include a 4.7 metre winglet (an uplet of 3.5 metres and a downlet of 1.2 metres) designed to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag. The optimised cabin layout provides space for up to 80 additional seats through a redesigned staircase, a combined crew-rest compartment, sidewall stowage removal, plus a new 9-abreast seat configuration in premium economy and 11-abreast in economy.

The aircraft will have an increased maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 578 tonnes providing the flexibility of carrying up to 80 more passengers over today’s range (8,200nm), or flying 300nm further, while a reduced six-year check downtime, and systems improvements, which will also reduce maintenance costs and increase aircraft availability.