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Wed 8 Feb 2012 04:45 PM

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Airbus A380: Age of the super jumbo

The past, present and future of the most talked about aircraft in the Middle East

Airbus A380: Age of the super jumbo
Airbus A380: Age of the super jumbo

The Airbus A380 blasted into the aviation world as the largest passenger aircraft ever to hit the skies. Continuing its mantle as the biggest commercial plane on the market today, the hefty double-decker has the capacity to fly 525 passengers in a three-class configuration and up to 853 in a single-class configuration. With a range of 8300 nautical miles, the A380 also claims the lowest fuel burn per seat and generates less noise pollution on departure and landing.

Earlier last year, a confident Airbus increased the list price of its A380 by 8.4 percent to a steep $375.3m. According to the manufacturer, this hike is largely as a result of the aircraft’s previously underestimated revenue generating performance. With its huge capacity potential, the A380 can be used to reduce the number of flights necessary whilst maintaining airline capacity or even offering more capacity with fewer take-off slots.

Airbus promises that with the model due for overhaul and improvement in the future, its revenue potential will rise even further. Clearly the aviation industry is acquiescing as the manufacturer has seen demand for its superjumbo rocketing.

But what is it that makes the A380 such an attractive proposition? Richard Carcaillet, Airbus’ head of marketing for the A380, believes the aircraft has been a key contributor to the aviation industry’s growth. “The A380 offers 40 percent more seats than a Boeing 747 at a much lower unit cost and environmental impact,” he claims. “Besides achieving a sustainable growth for airlines, it offers more comfort to passengers thanks to the best cabin in the sky, providing more space and more silence contributing to the best travel experience in all classes.” With each of these benefits, the A380 has proven to be what Carcaillet terms ‘a passenger magnet’ from day one. “The airlines have reported higher load factors with respect to the aircraft it replaced, demonstrating that passengers are actively seeking the A380 flights for their trips,” says Carcaillet. “This ‘A380 effect’ continues even four years after the entry into service, since passengers who have flown it feel the difference and want to repeat the experience.”

At present there are 58 of the aircraft in operation, shared amongst seven customers — Emirates Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Air France and China Southern Airlines. Top of the list, Dubai’s national airline Emirates holds fifteen superjumbos in its fleet, with Australian carrier Qantas following closely behind having taken delivery of ten of its twenty ordered aircraft. But this gap is due to widen sharply as Emirates has a staggering 90 of the aircraft on order. Airbus delivered fourteen A380s last year — one each to Singapore Airlines and China Southern Airlines; two for Air France; three apiece to Qantas and Korean Air; and four for Lufthansa. But its order sheet reflects the growing popularity of the aircraft with other global airlines, totalling 253 at the end of January 2012. Other big names keen to get aboard the A380 include British Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Skymark Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

In the Middle East, all three Gulf carriers have snapped up the aircraft. Qatar Airways ordered five additional A380’s with options for five more at the Dubai Airshow in November.

The UAE’s flag carrier, Etihad Airways, on the other hand, has ordered ten A380s, with deliveries from 2014 onwards. The airline actually delayed the first handover to take advantage of recently-implemented modifications, with chief commercial officer Peter Baumgartner promising a breakthrough in terms of the aircraft’s utilisation.

Much of the A380’s allure comes from what Airbus pinpoints as its ‘unrivalled versatility’ in terms of segmentation and seating arrangement. So far, the existing aircraft customers have utilised the superjumbo’s spaciousness in vastly different ways. Although the capacity of the A380 is up to 800 passengers in an all-economy configuration, the average total number of seats across classes ranges from 407 seats (Korean Air) to 526 seats (Lufthansa).

The benefit of this extra space has also allowed the operators to let their imagination loose when it comes to interior design. Some have introduced lounges, bars, spacious first class suites and even, in the case of Emirates, fully-equipped shower spas.

“Definitely the unique, full double-deck cabin of the A380 is a masterpiece of interior architecture and design, offering the best experience for passengers and an efficient layout for airlines,” says Carcaillet. “With the increased floor space and architecture, innovative solutions are possible to help the airlines differentiate their product
and increase their profitability.”

And the extra space clearly does make a difference. In economy class, for example, passengers benefit from a wider cabin (on the main deck) with respect to other wide-bodies and from a 1.5 inch wider seat space.

“All passengers have more individual space and volume thanks to the dimensions and the architecture of the A380 cabin,” says Carcaillet.

“The cabin is also brighter, thanks to the larger windows which provide more natural light, and much quieter than any other wide-body,” he adds.

It has not, however, been all guns and glory for the Airbus A380. In 2009, the manufacturer had distributed only ten of the eighteen A380s it was due to deliver. Further delays in production and reports of engine failure saw the manufacturer hit the headlines in a much more negative light.  The French planemaker is understandably keen to leave this all in the past and has hugely upped its game in the last twelve months.

“We are forecasting to deliver around 25 aircraft in 2011, and the production rate is ramping up so as to eventually reach four aircraft per month,” Carcaillet says.

“We are expecting more orders from existing and new customers between the end of the year and the first months of 2012 but we can’t reveal their names yet.”

According to Airbus’ own global market forecast 2011-2030, the manufacturer predicts the need for more than 900 passenger airliners with seating capacities of 100 seats and above. In the same timeframe, the firm believes that the world’s overall passenger aircraft inventory will more than double to overshoot the 31,500 mark by 2030. Much of this market requirement will come from passengers flying between the increasing number of what it terms ‘aviation mega-cities and hubs’, expected to climb from 39 in 2010 to 87 by 2030.

From an aviation perspective, the forecast predicts 91 percent of the people flying long-haul in 2030 will want to fly to, from or between these cities. And what aircraft provides the most fuel-efficient and environmentally-conscious solution to meeting these needs? Airbus’ answer, of course, is the A380.

Airline Profiles

A380 interiors

Airbus states that much of the appeal for the A380 lies in its design and layout versatility. CEO Middle East looks at how six existing customers have utilised their superjumbos

Emirates Airline

With a current fleet of fifteen A380s, Emirates is the largest operator of the double-decker aircraft. The airline uses its A380 to service routes from Dubai to London Heathrow (double-daily), Manchester, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Toronto, Seoul, Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai, Jeddah, New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Johannesburg and Auckland. In addition, it has announced Rome, Kuala Lumpur and Munich as new A380 destinations. “We have a further 75 A380s on order with several marked for delivery up until the end of this financial year,” says Ahmed Khoory, senior vice president for Emirates — Gulf, Middle East and Iran.

The layout of Emirates’ A380 falls into the three standard cabin classes — with either 489 seats in the ultra-long range or 517 seats in the long-range versions. The first class cabin comprises fourteen flat-bed private suites, set in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each suite is 82 inches long, with a seat that reclines from upright position to sleep position to a total length of 78.87 inches, with a seat cushion width of 21.6 inches. The seat also features a multi-mode massage system allowing for adjustable speed and intensity and separate lumbar support adjustment. The rest of the suite is equipped with a variety of features including an electrically operated door, wardrobe, work desk with built-in illuminated vanity mirror and a personal mini-bar. Emirates’ has been the first to introduce two fully-equipped ‘shower spas’ shared across its first class cabin. With touch-screen access to the in-flight entertainment system and a wireless seat controller, each suite also comes with a 23-inch wide LCD screen.

Business class also houses a 1-2-1 configuration with 76 fully-flat seats and a seat cushion width of 18.5 inches. Here passengers can relax in a seat pitch of either 39 or 48 inches, which convert to form 70- to 79-inch fully-flat beds, respectively. This is all contained in a shell with built-in amenities including a mini-bar, large personal table, electrically operated foot-rest extension, stowage, adjustable headrests and noise cancellation headsets. As well as the IFE controller, the seat comes with a seventeen inch wide LCD screen and dual USB ports.

Premium class passengers have exclusive use of a lounge area situated on the upper deck, offering a selection of hot and cold snacks and alcoholic beverages. Economy class, on the other hand, comes in a 3-4-3 configuration with 399 seats, each with a pitch of up to 33 inches. As well as providing IFE via seat-back screens, passengers are able to use SMS, phone and email at their seats. “The A380 has the widest cabin of any aircraft in the world, offering a spacious environment for passengers,” says Khoory. “It is extremely popular and many people arrange their itinerary and book their flights specifically around the A380 aircraft schedule.”

There is much speculation that the airline will soon order around 30 more A380s, possibly at Dubai Airshow, as part of its ambitious plans to conquer the US market.

Korean Air

To date, Korean Air has ordered ten A380 aircraft, four of which have already been delivered, while the remaining ones are expected by the end of 2014. The carrier’s operational A380s presently service routes between Seoul Incheon and Tokyo Narita, Hong Kong, Paris and New York. In August Korean Air also became the first airline to offer A380 flights to Asia out of John F Kennedy airport in New York.

Chan Kim, the airline’s regional manager for Dubai, believes that with its spacious layout the superjumbo strengthens the position of Korean Air as a leading global carrier. “The fantastic size of the A380 has enabled us to create one of the most spacious on-board experiences in the industry,” says Kim.

Infact, the aircraft has a total of only 407 seats, significantly fewer than many of its rival A380 operators.

Situated the lower deck of Korean Air’s A380, the first class cabin comprises twelve Kosmo Suites. Each 26.5 inch wide seat converts into a 79 inch bed, with 83 inches of space between seats. The bed, made of a one-piece seat mat without joints, helps reduce fatigue on longer flights.

In addition, each suite comes with a 23-inch LCD monitor for entertainment, together with an individual work table. Also on the lower deck, the aircraft features 301 economy seats, each eighteen inches wide with 34 inches of space between seats.

With a 121 degree reclining back support, each seat come comes with a 10.6 inch LCD wide screen. Taking over the entire upper deck, the ‘Prestige’ business class cabin includes 94 full-flat sleepers with 74 inches between seats and extra-large seat partitions. Seats are 21.6 inches wide, with fully adjustable back support and foot rest, while a 15.4 inch LCD screen is also provided.

The Korean Air A380 also features the ‘Celestial Bar’, providing first and business class passengers with a sociable space to relax during their journey.

The interior décor is inspired by the ancient prints and textiles of Korea. The remainder of the A380 is kitted out in the traditional Korean Air colour scheme of sky blue, grey and white.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa has been a major supporter of the A380 and plans to operate fifteen of the superjumbos by 2015. For now, the German carrier has eight A380s in service, which serve routes to Johannesburg, New York, Beijing, San Francisco, Singapore and Tokyo.

The carrier’s A380 offers a total of 526 seats split across the three service classes. The new first class cabin, which the carrier rolled out with the A380 last year, features eight large seats in the front section of the upper deck. These have touch-screen control, enabling adjustment to a wide lie-flat bed. Each bed measures 31.5 by 81.5 inches and has been kitted out in Fleuresse bed linen and Egyptian cotton. Cabins come with retractable privacy screens, personal wardrobes and electrically adjustable ottoman seats with room for two pairs of shoes. The cabin also benefits from a high ceiling as there are no overhead bins. Sound-insulating material, developed by Lufthansa Technik, provides optimal protection against engine and wind noise — making this one of the quietest cabins available. First class bathrooms are almost three times as large as average, with separate washroom and lavatory areas, a full-length mirror and leather bench.

Business class is located on the upper deck, with 98 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. As well as larger overhead bins and new semi-transparent curtains for partitioning the cabin, the seat converts into a 78.7 inch long bed. The redesigned economy class is situated on the main deck, with 420 seats set out in a 3-4-3 layout, providing some fifteen percent additional ‘living space’.

Having rolled out the first of the Lufthansa A380 fleet in May 2010, all the aircraft come with a brand new first class and economy cabins. “Business class has been enhanced as well,” adds Joachim Steinbach, Lufthansa’s vice president of sales and services in the Middle East. “However, at some point in the near mid-term, we will retrofit our Airbus A380s with a completely new business class, which will debut next year on the Boeing 747-8i.”

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines was the first carrier in the world to take delivery and fly the Airbus A380. It still has five of the superjumbos on order, which will boost the current fleet of fourteen A380s that are used on routes to eight destinations, namely London, Sydney, Melbourne, Paris, Zurich, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Los Angles.

The airline’s first eleven A380s have the capacity to seat 471 passengers in three classes, made up of twelve first class suites on the main deck, sixty business class seats on the upper deck and 399 economy class seats across both decks.

The remaining eight A380s seat 409 passengers — configured as twelve suites and 311 economy class seats on the main deck and 86 business class seats on the upper deck.

Each first class suite comes with its own sliding doors and self-adjustable roller-blinds to provide passenger privacy. Unusually, the suite homes a separate Poltrona Frau-upholstered leather seat as well as a stand-alone full-sized bed measuring 27 inches by 78 inches.

The seat is fully-adjustable to fit sitting and lounging positions, and the suite also boasts a 23 inch LCD screen, personal coat closet with wardrobe lights, vanity mirror and chaise lounge for visiting passengers.

Business class includes a seat measuring 34 inches wide, with a seat pitch of 55 inches — able to transform into a full-flat bed. Each seat comes with a fixed back shell that extends to the sides for enhanced privacy, an adjustable table, reading lights and laptop power supply.

Over in economy, seats come with a headrest and front mounted footrest. Other features include stowage for coat and spectacles; a Givenchy-designed seat cover and 10.6 inch LCD monitor.

“The Singapore Airlines A380 has proven exceptionally popular with customers, with strong loads on all routes it serves,” explains Nicholas Ionides, vice president public affairs for Singapore Airlines. “System wide, more than 5.6 million customers have flown on our A380s since the inaugural flight in October 2007.”

Air France

Air France has ordered twelve A380s in total, six of which are already in operation.  During the winter 2011-2012 season, these superjumbos will operate between Paris, New York, Johannesburg, San Francisco, Montreal and Washington. “The A380 boasts our equivalent capacity to that of a Boeing 777-200ER and an Airbus A340 combined, while offering a twenty percent reduction in operating costs,” says Pierre de Saint-Albin, Gulf general manager for Air France-KLM. “Its size and performance are particularly well-suited to our network.”

At present, Air France has both three and four cabin A380s. The latest versions offer seating to 516 passengers across four cabins — La Première, the business cabin, Premium Voyageur and the Voyageur-Economy — while the original aircraft were launched without the Premium Voyageur class (instead offering 538 seats across economy, business and first class). However, the airline plans to retrofit the older aircraft with the new arrangement.

Situated on the upper deck, La Première has only nine seats. At the front of this cabin, passengers can use a private dressing cabin to change into their lounging suit before sleeping or to get ready before arrival. The area also features a dressing table with two built-in shelves and a wardrobe. Meanwhile, the ‘Affaires’ business cabin, comprising of 80 seats, is located on the upper deck of the A380. The seat converts in a 78.7 lie-flat bed and there is also a socket for recharging laptops, USB port and a fifteen-inch video screen. Sharing the upper deck is the Premium Voyageur, made up of 38 seats and offering 40 percent additional space compared with Voyageur (economy) class. Inside a fixed shell, the seat is nineteen inches wide with ten cm wide leather armrests, and can recline to 123 degrees. Each seat features a 10.4 inch wide video screen. Finally, the Voyageur-Economy cabin is spread across both decks, with 389 seats in total.

Each cabin comes with its own bar, including one exclusively reserved for La Première passengers, two in the business cabin and three in Voyageur cabins.

Qantas

Australian carrier Qantas introduced the A380 into its fleet back in October 2008 and has since received half of its twenty ordered superjumbos. This represents the second-largest A380 firm order of any airline in the world, following Emirates. The Qantas A380 operates on selected flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, Singapore and London.

“The A380, with its extra space, new materials and advanced technology, has given us the ideal platform to reinvent the in-flight experience,” a Qantas spokesperson says.

The carrier’s A380 accommodates 450 passengers — fourteen in the First Suites, 72 in International Business, 32 in International Premium Economy and 332 in International Economy.

The first class cabin features fourteen single private suites — each with a seventeen inch LCD wide screen video monitor and touch screen control unit. The seat itself can swivel into a comfortable armchair and a fully flat bed of up to 83.5 inches. Over in business class, Qantas has ‘Skybed’ sleeper seats, which provide up to 80 inches seat pitch and convert to a 24 inch wide fully flat bed. In the upper deck of the business class cabin, there is a private lounge featuring leather sofas, a self-service bar and a feature display cabinet.

Premium economy class features a seat pitch of 38-42 inches and a width of up to 19.5 inches, which are fully adjustable with in-arm digital wide-screen television monitors. There is also a self-service bar dedicated to the upper deck of the premium economy cabin. Over in international economy class, the seat pitch is 31 inches and width of up to 18.1 inches. The seats are fitted with a sliding base to aid sleep and eliminate pressure points, together with a footrest net to stop sliding during sleep. There are four self-service bars in economy class.

“The self-service snack bars provide customers with the convenience of being able to stretch their legs, and help themselves to a snack or drink whenever they like,” says Qantas spokesperson. Seats across all classes provide in-seat laptop power and connectivity.

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