Airbus Press Release. The A350-1000 completed successfully its first and unique “Early Long Flight” with 310 passengers on board, including 10 Airbus Flight Test crew members and 13 Virgin Atlantic cabin crew. Test aircraft MSN065 took off from and landed in Toulouse on May 11th after a 12 hours flight.
During the long-haul flight the passengers, comprising Airbus employees and cabin crew personnel from Virgin Atlantic Airways – one of the 12 A350-1000 customers – were first to experience the Xtra wide comfort of the A350-1000. The early passengers were invited to try out and test the cabin systems, including air conditioning, lighting, acoustics, in-flight entertainment (IFE), galleys, electrics, washrooms and water waste systems.
Though not part of the technical certification programme, the Early Long Flight allows Airbus to assess cabin environment and systems in-flight and optimise cabin procedures to ensure full maturity at Entry Into Service for its customers.
The intensive A350-1000 certification testing is progressing well and on track to reach Type Certification followed by Entry Into Service in second half of 2017.
The A350-1000 is the latest member of the Airbus leading widebody family, showing high level of commonality with the A350-900 with 95% common systems part numbers and Same Type Rating. As well as having a longer fuselage to accommodate 40 more passengers than the A350-900, the A350-1000 also features a modified wing trailing-edge, new six-wheel main landing gears and more powerful Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines. The A350-1000 embodies all of the fuel efficiency and ‘Airspace’ cabin comfort of the original A350-900 – but with extra size perfectly tailored for our customers on some of their busiest long-haul routes. To date 12 customers from five continents have placed orders for a total of 211 A350-1000s.
There’s always razzamatazz around the Dubai Airshow, and it’s not just because its a chance for mega-rich Gulf airlines to announce orders or for US defence giants to sell military hardware.
The show is a sort of economic virility symbol; a chance for Dubai to showcase itself. So, while Paris’s huge Le Bourget airshow gets rain and dreadful congestion, Dubai gets sunshine and Katy Perry.
The singer is performing at the show’s gala dinner (no, I’ve not been invited) following in the footsteps of Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross.
But – Ms Perry aside – this biennial event could be unusually quiet.
With more than 1,100 exhibitors and 65,000 trade visitors attending from this weekend, the show will be bigger than 2013, but it looks unlikely to generate anywhere near the $206bn (£135bn) of commercial aircraft orders announced then.
With the production lines of manufacturers Airbus and Boeing booked for years to come, there is an expectation that airlines will “pause for breath”, says analyst Richard Aboulafia, vice president at US-based aerospace consultants Teal Group.
“I think everyone’s more than adequately ordered,” he says. “The Gulf carriers are still expanding, but the existing orders will do the job, and there’s a glut of twin-aisle jets out there.”
Raymond Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, says airlines are now buying so far out into the future that a slowdown in the pace was inevitable.
He’s expecting to see orders, but probably not “the huge numbers that we’ve seen before”. In 2013, Boeing’s orders and commitments reached 342 aircraft, worth $101.5bn at list prices.
Emirates’ chief executive Tim Clark has also played down suggestions that his Dubai-based airline will have its chequebook open. “We’re still running the programme we signed [in 2013]”, Mr Clark told reporters last month.
This includes 150 of Boeing’s huge new 777X, a deal worth $76bn, with the first aircraft due for delivery in 2019. Emirates also added another 50 Airbus A380 super-jumbo jets to its existing order for 90.
“That’s enough for the time being,” Mr Clark said.
It would be a surprise, though, if the airline didn’t have something major to announce on its home turf, even if it didn’t match 2013’s record haul.
Emirates is considering the purchase of some 60 variants of either the Airbus A350 or Boeing’s longer Dreamliner, the 787-10.
But it’s unclear if any deal will be ready to unveil at the show. Much may depend on when Emirates decides to move from Dubai International Airport, where it faces space constraints, to the new larger Al Maktoum International Airport.
Dubai International has capacity to handle 75 million passengers a year. Al Maktoum, when fully up and running, will be able to cater for 160 million, enabling Emirates to accelerate its ambitions to double in size.
Airbus is desperate to announce fresh A380 orders, and Emirates would have more space to operate them at Al Maktoum. But the world’s largest aircraft hasn’t had an order for two years and there have been persistent rumours over its future.
Emirates, the biggest user of the A380, has pushed Airbus to commit to build a new version, the A380neo. But if the Dubai airline is in no hurry to buy, Airbus will be in no hurry to sign off on the €2bn (£1.4bn; $2.1bn)-plus development costs.
Saudi Arabian Airlines also has ambitious expansion plans and if the carrier’s rumoured interest in buying A380s (or Boeing’s 777) turns into firm orders this week, it will be a huge relief for Airbus.
Another manufacturer desperate for good news is Bombardier. The Canadian company announced only on Wednesday that its C-Series aircraft would be making its Middle East debut.
The C-Series, Bombardier’s effort to move into a bigger aircraft bracket and challenge Airbus and Boeing, has been plagued by delays and worries about development costs.
Bombardier, maker of the Learjet and Challenger business aircraft, is weighed down by debt, and last month Quebec province announced plans to invest $1bn in the C-Series programme – aid that may yet spark a trade row with competitors.
Watch, also, for any hint of news from Iran. The easing of sanctions, possibly from next year, will lead to fleets being upgraded, with the country’s aviation authority having spoken of the need for 400 new aircraft as well as investment in airport capacity.
It’s far too early in the geo-political jigsaw for any announcements. But all the airframe manufacturers will be sizing up the potential of a market that Tony Tyler, head of the International Air Transport Authority, says is “going to be huge”.
Defence deals are no less important than the civil orders, although there will be far less publicity. Saudi Arabia’s defence budget last year was $80.7bn, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The UAE spent $13.4bn last year.
And analysts expect the worsening security situation in parts of the Middle East to boost defence spending across the region.
That’s why US defence firms will be out in force, having scaled back their presence at the Farnborough and Paris airshows in recent years because of falling European arms budgets.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman will have a big presence, as will Boeing’s defence and space operations.
More than 90 US companies are participating, and six American states – Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Washington, Virginia and New Hampshire – have their own pavilions.
Boeing is bringing two of its military surveillance aircraft, its P-8 Poseidon and its MSA maritime plane that is still in development, plus its Apache and Chinook helicopters.
The US giant is thought to be in advanced talks about big helicopter orders with unnamed Middle East countries.
Meanwhile, a British Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon will also be there, though not with the anticipation that accompanied its 2013 showing.
Then, UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a surprise appearance to bolster negotiations with the UAE over its possible acquisition of the aircraft.
The UAE pulled out of talks a month later.
Source: Russell Hotten, Business reporter, BBC News, Dubai
European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has recently patented a new layout for its aircraft which would allow two tiers of seating.
The patents in question describe a way of stacking passengers on top of each other in order to maximize the use of space in an aircraft.
Airbus filed these patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office as well as the European Patent Office.
“In modern means of transport, in particular in aircraft, it is very important from an economic point of view to make optimum use of the available space in a passenger cabin,” the company explained in the filing.
Under this design, Business Class passengers in the middle rows of an aircraft would have a second row of passengers aligned above them in the dead space between the overhead baggage compartments.
Passengers on the higher level would reach their seats through the use of small, bunk-bed style ladders.
While the design crams more people in to the same space, Airbus’s patents show both rows being able to fully recline their seats.
With such an arrangement, the company’s diagrams show that it would be able to seat an additional two passengers per row.
Airbus maintains that its new patented design “provides a high level of comfort”, but it is difficult to see how this arrangement will be better for already claustrophobic plane travel.
Indeed, their new design represents a significant reduction in the headroom of a passenger, something that has until now stayed reasonably static, while leg room declined.
This latest patent by Airbus, is the most recent in a series of bizarre designs intended to help aircraft crowd more passengers on each plane.
Driven by the ultra-competitive market for low-cost airlines, aircraft companies have also trademarked ways to ‘seat’ passengers in standing harnesses or in alternating forward and backwards arrangements to save space.
Despite this, none of these patents, including this most recent one by Airbus, have been implemented in new aircraft designs, perhaps due to fears of their rejection by customers.
Dreams of high-speed air travel are one step closer to being realized.
Airbus has filed a patent for a “rocket motor”-propelled aircraft that would have the capability of carrying passengers from New York to London in 60 minutes.
Standard airlines complete the journey across the Atlantic in around eight hours.
Called Concorde-2, the supersonic jet would use a combination of three separate engines — turbojets, ramjets and a “rocket-motor” — to propel it through the air, according to the patent.
The U.S. government approved Airbus’ patented design in July that would travel at speeds of up to 4.5 times the speed of sound. This would be three times as fast as the speed of the original Concorde jet, which was retired in 2003, reports the Independent.
The aircraft would take off from a conventional runway, using its turbojets to climb vertically into the air like a rocket. It would level off and fly at 100,000 feet– higher than conventional carriers– and would be fitted with aerodynamics that would make it much quieter than the original Concorde.
One of the limitations to the Concorde was the noise it generated that prevented it from breaking the sound barrier (approx. 767mph) until it was over the ocean, away from populated areas, noted the Independent.
According to the patent, Airbus intends to use Concorde-2 primarily for military purposes and would have a seating limitation of up 19 passengers.
It’s unclear if the project will ever get off the ground, or even if commercial passengers will get access to the service.
But if things take off, you can be sure that not everyone would be able to afford it.
“In the case of civil applications, the market envisaged is principally that of business travel and VIP passengers, who require transcontinental return journeys within one day,” the Airbus patent says.
Meanwhile, a separate attempt to revive the original Concorde is underway by a group of aviation enthusiasts, ex-pilots, airline executives and engineers. Last month, the group said it was prepared to spend $250 million to restore an original Concorde plane and have it back flying by 2019.
PHILIPPINE Airlines Inc. (PAL) plans to add eight Boeing 787 Dreamliner or Airbus A350 XWB aircraft through a lease or purchase agreement to be sealed within the year, the company’s president said.
The new jets would help the airline cut fuel and maintenance costs — its key expense items — while boosting its non-stop flights to the US and Europe from Manila, PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jaime J. Bautista told reporters after PAL Holdings, Inc.’s annual stockholders’ meeting at the Century Park Hotel in Manila City.
The flag carrier will also buy or lease additional Bombardier turboprops in 2016 to prop up its domestic operations, he said.
With the wide-body planes, PAL will replace six of its existing Airbus A340 and “possibly” add two more to these, with delivery expected by 2017 or 2018.
“There are proposals from Airbus and Boeing but we are not yet ready to announce which airplane we will choose,” Mr. Bautista said. “It will be very efficient if we operate the same types of plane.”
In June, PAL sealed a deal to lease two Boeing 777-300ERs to bolster its long-haul operations to the US and London. Before that, PAL had just six Boeing 777-300ERs it uses for its Los Angeles and San Francisco flights, after retiring its last four-engined Boeing 747 jumbo in September last year.
That June deal brought its total fleet count to 78 — four out of five jets are Airbus, according to data from aviation think tank Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). PAL currently serves six long-haul destinations, one in Europe and five in North America.
Meanwhile, PAL said it expects to take delivery of Bombardier turboprops one year after the order was placed.
“We have nine turboprop airplanes right now, we may replace them or add more. We are considering the same aircraft — maybe a Q300 or or Q400, or even a smaller jet that can carry 50-70 passengers,” Mr. Bautista said.
The smaller planes will address the demand for flights servicing the country’s regional airports.
“We have more than 70 airports in the Philippines and we serve only around 30 of them,” he said.
LOSSES DURING LEAN MONTHS
PAL anticipates “losses” in the coming months but still expects to end 2015 “profitable,” owing to encouraging first-half figures and a surge in demand by December.
In a statement released on Thursday, PAL said it posted $138 million (P6.4 billion) in net income for the January to July period. Second quarter earnings data alone were not immediately available, but the airline reported an $85 million profit in the three months ending March allowing it to remain in the black for a second straight quarter.
Its listed parent firm, PAL Holdings, saw its first-half profit surge by 946% to P5.86 billion from P560.26 million in the same period last year.
“There are months when we expect losses because of the lean season — August, September, October and November. Traditionally, airlines lose money during these months but hopefully we will reduce the losses,” Mr. Bautista said.
To minimize the impact of the lean season, PAL will “manage capacity” by reducing flights to certain destinations, such as those bound for Los Angeles.
“We are still expecting to be profitable for the full year. December will always be profitable,” Mr. Bautista said.
The major growth drivers will be passenger growth, yield improvement, and cost control programs such as efficient fuel utilization.
Within the year, PAL will close codeshare alliances with a “few” US and European carriers, in addition to its nine existing partnerships.
PAL said in its statement that competition in international routes continues to intensify and as cushion, “we need to strengthen and expand our alliances with carriers that can complement our network and passenger base.”
Source: Daphne J. Magturo,Reporter, http://www.bworldonline.com/
Aircraft maker Airbus SAS is setting up a training center in Manila, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said Sunday.
CAAP Director General Lt. Gen. William Hotchkiss lll endorsed the establishment of the training center to the Board of Investment.
“The center will also be the first that will be equipped with a brand new A330/A340 Full Flight Simulator and associated suite of devices on top of two A320 simulators,” the CAAP said.
It added the training center stands to be the first by an aircraft manufacturer in the Philippines.
“The setting of training center is seen as a major initiative supporting the CAAP’s current efforts to support the type rating training of the growing aviation industry,” said Hotchkiss.
He added the center as part of the Airbus Approved Training Organization (ATO) would always be updated with the latest training standards.
This promises to improve the quality of training that could “put the Philippines to become an international site for Airbus training that will serve the ever-increasing Airbus fleet in the region,” the CAAP said.
Other Airbus SAS Training centers are located in Toulouse, Miami, Hamburg, Beijing and Bangalore in India. The firm also has field service offices worldwide.
Data from leading aviation information consultancy Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) said around 9,160 of the total global airplane orders are destined for Asia-Pacific region and there will be need for 192,300 pilots and 215,300 technicians until 2030.
As of December 31, 2014, the CAAP had issued 24,253 airmen licenses with breakdown as follows:
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine Airlines (PAL) is considering delaying delivery of Airbus (AIR.PA) planes it has on order as it reviews operations after billionaire tycoon Lucio Tan resumed management control of the carrier last month, a senior official said.
The airline is currently scheduled to take delivery of its 30th Airbus jet in November under a $7 billion (£4.36 billion) deal to buy 44 new A320 and 20 new A330 aircraft signed in 2012, including firm orders and options for more purchases.
It is scheduled to take 10 more aircraft in 2015 and another 10 in 2016. In August, the airline decided not to exercise an option to purchase eight Airbus A321 NEOs.
“We have to discuss with Airbus,” PAL general manager Jaime Bautista told reporters at an event in Manila late on Tuesday. “It can be deferred, but of course that entails cost if you defer delivery.”
Asia’s first airline has decided to indefinitely defer the planned opening of new routes in Europe, instead focusing on profitable routes in North America amid a shortage of aircraft for long-haul flights in its fleet, Bautista said.
The airline would review its current routes as it had a surplus of short- and medium-haul aircraft.
“We really have to check whether the market requires all these airplanes,” Bautista said.
PAL is working on a plan to return to profitability after two consecutive years in the red, with a view to potentially attracting a “strategic partner”, Bautista said.
“It’s more challenging now because this is an airline with more airplanes and there is more competition,” he said.
The review comes after the Tan group last month bought out its partner in PAL, diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp (SMC.PS), in a $1.3 billion deal.
PAL currently has codeshare agreements with carriers like Emirates Airline EMIRA.UL, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways and Cathay Pacific (0293.HK).
Shares in PAL Holdings had slipped 0.5 percent, in step with the broader market index’s (.PSI) 0.5 percent decline as of 0634 BST.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Stephen Coates)
MANILA, Philippines – National flag carrier Philippine Airlines Inc. (PAL), jointly owned by taipan Lucio Tan and diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corp. (SMC), has further tweaked its order of Airbus aircraft under its massive fleet renewal program.
Based on a report submitted to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), PAL has decided not to exercise an option to acquire eight of the 20 A321 NEO (new engine option) that it has agreed to purchase last year.
In April 2012, SMC’s wholly-owned subsidiary San Miguel Equity Investments Inc. (SMEII) acquired a 49-percent equity interest in Trustmark Holdings Corp. for $500 million. Trustmark owns 97.71 percent of PAL Holdings which in turn owns 84.67 percent of PAL through PR Holdings Inc.
PAL embarked on a fleet renewal program aimed at acquiring 100 brand new aircraft. It entered into two purchase agreements with aircraft maker Airbus.
PAL entered into its first Purchase Agreement with Airbus for firm order of 44 A320 aircraft with options for 20 A321 NEO aircraft for delivery in fiscal years 2014 to 2020.
It also signed a second purchase agreement for a firm order of 10 A330-300 and options for another 10 for delivery in fiscal years 2014 to 2016.
However, PAL and Airbus agreed to an amendment last March wherein the number of order of A330-300 aircraft would be reduced to 15 instead of 20.
PAL dropped an option to acquire eight A321 NEO aircraft in the first purchase agreement but agreed to acquire eight A321 NEO. The airline has until 2017 to exercise its right to purchase four A321 NEO aircraft.
As of end-June, PAL has received a total of 17 aircraft from Airbus including 10 A330 and seven A321.
The fleet of the PAL Group including PAL Express stood at 85 as of end-June. The fleet is composed of six Boeing 777-300ER, four Boeing 747-400, 10 A340-300, 18, A330-300, seven A321-231, 28 A320-200, three A319, five Bombardier DHC 8-400, and four Bombardier DHC 8-300.
PAL is set to retire 20 aging aircraft including four Boeing 747-400 aircraft as part of efforts to transform the company into “Asia’s airline of choice” and one of Asia’s youngest fleet at 3.5 years.
PAL is set to launch direct flights to New York, Florida, Chicago and other major cities after expanding its flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Guam as the country’s aviation safety rating was upgraded back to Category 1 last April.
It is also set to launch more direct flights to Europe including Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, among others after successfully mounting direct flights to London last November after the airline was allowed by the European Union to enter European airspace.
PAL revenues jumped 47.4 percent to P27.3 billion from April to June this year compared to P18.52 billion in the same period last year as passenger revenues surged 51 percent while cargo revenues grew 33 percent.
The airline’s expenses increased 31 percent to P25.52 billion from P19.47 billion largely on account of higher expenses related to flying operations, aircraft and traffic servicing, passenger service, reservation and sales, general and administrative expenses.
Talks are ongoing for a move to buyback SMC’s 49-percent stake in PAL by the Tan Group.
After taking back full control of PAL possibly within the month, the Tan Group is likely to take in Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways as partner for a 40-percent stake in the national flag carrier.
To get a sense of the Airbus A380’s size and ambition, walk up the grand staircase of an Emirates version of the aircraft, go past the showers and the first-class suites and then pass by endless rows in business class to reach the bar at the back of the upper deck. This sleek semicircle, alluringly underlit and fully stocked with pricey spirits like Grey Goose vodka, is undoubtedly one of the defining features of this aircraft, which can hold more than 500 passengers. The plane dwarfs every commercial jet in the skies.
Since it started flying commercially seven years ago, the A380 has caught the imagination of travellers. Its two full-length decks total 6,000 square feet, 50 per cent more than the original jumbo jet, the Boeing 747. Its wingspan barely fits inside a football field. Its four engines take this 560-tonne aeroplane to a cruising altitude of 39,000 feet in less than 15 minutes, a surprisingly smooth ascent for such a bulky plane. Passengers love it because it’s quiet and more reminiscent of a cruise ship than an aeroplane.
The A380 was also Airbus’ answer to a problematic trend: More and more passengers meant more flights and increasingly congested tarmacs. Airbus figured that the future of air travel belonged to big planes flying between major hubs. “More than simply a big aeroplane,” one industry analyst wrote when the first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines in 2007, “the newest industry flagship will change forever the way the industry operates”.
The prediction hasn’t exactly come true.
Airbus has struggled to sell the planes. Orders have been slow, and not a single buyer has been found in the United States, South America, Africa or India. Only one airline in China has ordered it, and its only customer in Japan has cancelled. Even existing customers are paring down orders.
The A380 has a list price of $400 million (Dh1.5 billion), but the pressure has forced Airbus to cut prices as much as 50 per cent, according to industry analysts. So far, Airbus has received 318 orders and delivered 138 planes to just 11 airlines — a disappointing tally given forecasts that the plane would be a flagship aircraft for carriers worldwide.
Only one airline — Emirates — has made the A380 a central element of its global strategy, ordering 140 as it built a major hub in Dubai. But Emirates is unique. No one else has bet on the plane with quite the same confidence.
The A380 hasn’t done so well for a number of reasons, some merely cyclical. The plane was introduced amid a deep downturn in the airline business. Airline executives were wary of expanding their fleets aggressively, especially for a costly, four-engine fuel hog.
But critics like Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, an aviation consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia, say the main problem is more fundamental: Airbus made the wrong prediction about travel preferences. People would rather take direct flights on smaller airplanes, he said, than get on big airplanes — no matter their feats of engineering — that make connections through huge hubs.
“It’s a commercial disaster,” Aboulafia says. “Every conceivably bad idea that anyone’s ever had about the aviation industry is embodied in this aeroplane.”
Airbus spent roughly $25 billion to develop the aircraft. The plane was delayed for years because of manufacturing problems while Airbus struggled to keep the plane’s weight down and coordinate its complex design among dozens of suppliers across Europe. In 2012, Airbus discovered small cracks in supporting ribs inside the A380’s wings, an embarrassing and costly design error that the manufacturer is correcting.
While the A380 programme has been a boon for the European aerospace industry, Airbus is unlikely to recover its research and development costs. The best it can now expect is to break even on production costs, according to analysts, provided that it can keep orders going.
Steven F. Udvar-Házy, an industry veteran who is chief executive of the Air Lease Corp, which leases aircraft, calls the lack of interest in the planes “a very unusual situation,” especially among US airlines. “I’ve never seen this before in a big program,” he says.
A little more than a decade ago, the two dominant airplane-makers, Boeing and Airbus, looked at where their businesses were headed and saw similar facts: air traffic doubling every 15 years, estimates that the number of travellers would hit 4 billion by 2030 — and came to radically different conclusions about what those numbers meant for their future.
Boeing figured that traffic would move away from big hubs and toward secondary airports. So it started to build a smaller, more fuel-efficient long-range aircraft, which became known as the 787 Dreamliner.
Airbus, on the other hand, saw the rise of international traffic through major hubs and decided to bet on a big plane to connect those big airports.
“The A380 is not made for every route, but it is ideal for high-traffic routes, high-volume routes that are congested or where there are flying constraints,” says Antonio Da Costa, the head of A380 marketing for Airbus.
And there are a fair number of those routes. Around 15 of the 20 largest long-haul routes by passenger volume in the world today are slot-constrained, meaning they face some restrictions on the number of daily takeoff or landings, says John E. Thomas, managing director at LEK Consulting, a transportation advisory firm.
Here is one example of how the Airbus theory works in practice: This summer, British Airways plans to replace three Boeing 747s flying each day between London and Los Angeles with two A380s, freeing one slot at Heathrow Airport for another flight.
Yet despite the congestion at hubs like Heathrow and the growth of megacities like New York, New Delhi and Beijing, the market for large planes remains small. Airbus predicts that in the next 20 years, airlines will order more than 29,000 planes from Airbus, Boeing and other makers. But the bulk of those, or roughly 20,000, will be smaller, single-aisle planes that fly routes like New York to Chicago, or London to Frankfurt. Airbus estimates that the market for the biggest — and most expensive — long-range airplanes will be about 1,700.
Boeing, too, is facing lukewarm demand for its latest jumbo jet upgrade, known as the 747-8. The company has received just 51 orders for this big plane, which can seat about 460 passengers and lists at $357 million. By contrast, it has sold more than 1,200 twin-engine 777s, which sell for as much as $320 million. (Airlines typically get discounts on the listed prices.)
More worrisome for Airbus is that it has struggled to find new customers for the A380 after a flurry of initial orders. Just three new carriers — Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Asiana Airlines — are getting A380 planes this year. And last month, Airbus cancelled an order for six A380s destined for Skymark Airlines, a low-cost carrier in Japan that has been losing money.
Garuda of Indonesia recently dropped plans to buy the A380, deciding that the plane was too big for its markets. And Virgin Atlantic, which has options for six A380s, remains undecided about whether to proceed. The airline was partly acquired by Delta Air Lines in 2012; Richard H. Anderson, Delta’s chief executive, has said the A380 is “by definition an uneconomic aeroplane unless you’re a state-owned enterprise with subsidies.”
Current customers, too, are cutting back their orders, including the major carriers in France and Germany, where the plane is assembled. Air France postponed the last two of 12 planes it had ordered. Lufthansa has scaled back its order to 14 from 17.
Cooperation of Airports
Bruno Delile, Air France’s senior vice president for fleet management, says that there are a limited number of routes in its network with enough daily traffic to justify the expense of such a big plane.
“The forecasts about traffic growth and market saturation haven’t exactly panned out,” he says.
Airlines also have to gain the cooperation of airports to modify gates and widen taxiways to make room for the plane. Apart from the main global hubs, few airports have made these investments. No airport in Brazil, for instance, can handle an A380. The plane was only recently allowed in Mumbai.
“Airports haven’t really been rushing to welcome the A380,” Delile says.
Airbus may have mistimed the market in a more fundamental way. While European engineers were developing the plane, their counterparts at Boeing were working on alternative designs. Out of this effort came the 787 Dreamliner, with a carbon-composite fuselage, a host of electronic systems and more efficient engines that could fly longer distances while consuming less fuel.
That plane, which entered service in late 2011, had its share of high-profile problems; the entire fleet was grounded for three months in 2013 because of battery fires. Boeing says the problem has been resolved, and the company has orders for more than 1,000 of the planes. With versions that seat 210 to 330 passengers, and with a range of about 14,848 kilometres (9,000 miles), the 787 allows airlines to fly pretty much anywhere in the world and connect smaller airports without going through a hub.
Japanese carriers are flying these planes from Tokyo to Dusseldorf, Germany, and to San Diego and Boston. This reduces the need for bigger planes to feed big hubs. And passengers are willing to pay more to avoid a connection, says Will Horton, an aviation analyst at CAPA — Centre for Aviation.
Recognising the success of the 787, Airbus started developing its own version of a long-range, fuel-efficient aeroplane, called the A350-XWB. The first should be delivered to Qatar Airways before year-end. Airlines have ordered 742 of the A350s since the program was announced in 2006.
“No doubt some airlines, given the opportunity to rewrite history, would not order the A380,” Horton says.
A bar in the sky
The view from Tim Clark’s office on the top floor of the Emirates headquarters in Dubai offers a stunning panorama of the city’s airport, including a new $4.5 billion terminal. Emirates operates 50 A380s, with more on the way, and has built its business model around the plane. Traffic here never stops. Even at midnight, when flights from the east land and connect passengers who are headed west, the airport is alive and bustling.
If most airlines appear sceptical of the A380, Emirates is a true believer. It stunned the industry in December when it ordered 50 more of the planes, beyond the 90 it already had on order, throwing Airbus a much needed lifeline. (Emirates also ordered 150 new Boeing 777Xs, a more efficient variation on the best-selling jet, helping to initiate the programme for this new aeroplane, due in 2020.)
Clark, the president of the airline, has turned it into one of the world’s largest carriers by seat capacity. And he is the A380’s most enthusiastic supporter.
“People get on the A380 and they absolutely love it,” he says. The upper deck on the Emirates version, he adds, is “just one big party”.
The son of a tanker ship captain and an economist, Clark joined Emirates in the mid-1980s. His basic insight about the A380 is simple: It can be a canvas for a new kind of luxury flight experience. It was Clark who came up with the idea to install two showers for first-class passengers. Airbus engineers thought the idea was crazy because it would require more fuel to fly the water for the showers. But he dismissed their objections. The showers would immediately distinguish the plane from anything else in the air.
He also put a large bar on board, along with a pair of semicircular couches, equipped with seat belts in case of turbulence.
“This thing is so popular and during the course of a 14-hour flight it becomes even more popular,” he says. “They all want to have their picture taken behind the bar with their arms around the girls,” he says, referring to passengers posing with the flight attendants.
That was certainly the atmosphere on a 13-hour flight between New York and Dubai earlier this year. While about 400 weary coach passengers on the lower deck tried to catch a few hours of fitful sleep, the upper-deck mood was more festive.
Rudolph V. Pino Jr, an insurance lawyer from New York, enjoyed a glass of chardonnay and traded pleasantries and business cards with other passengers. The bar was staffed by cheerful flight attendants amid an endless supply of drinks.
“It’s a special aeroplane,” he said. “It brings some glamour back to air travel, just like in the days of TWA and the old Boeing 747s.”
Unlike airlines in the United States, Emirates, which is a product of Dubai’s aviation-friendly policies, operates from a single hub. The airport handled 66 million passengers last year, rivalling Heathrow as the busiest international hub. Emirates serves more than 140 destinations, essentially connecting flows of passengers with a single stop in Dubai.
But for Emirates, the biggest selling point of the A380 is its ability to pack in more business-class seats and create an environment that appeals to big-spending passengers.
“The upper deck of the A380 is an absolute gold mine for us,” Clark says. “We elected to make it all premium. We elected to put in all the gadgets and gizmos. We were laughed at, at first.”
There are more first- and business-class seats on the Emirates A380 than on the 777, and they are usually 75 to 80 percent full, Clark says. On some routes, like those to Heathrow, where Emirates has five daily flights, that figure can reach 90 per cent. Once the whole plane is 85 per cent full, its operating costs fall below those of a 777, he says.
It’s a simple-enough recipe. But for the plane to be successful for Airbus, Emirates can’t be the only airline to make it work.
“United would be a great operator from San Francisco to Asia,” says Mark Lapidus, chief executive of Amedeo, an aircraft leasing company. Last year, Lapidus announced that his company would buy 20 new A380s, in a deal valued at $8.3 billion, and then lease them to airlines. It was an expensive gamble, and Amedeo doesn’t have any commitments yet.
The problem is that US carriers, including United, aren’t interested. Wall Street analysts aren’t convinced, either. Shares of United would plunge at least 10 per cent if it bought A380s, according to one analyst, because of concerns that they would bring too much capacity into the market.
In recent years, US airlines have found the way back to profitability by cutting capacity and retiring airplanes, effectively taking seats out of the market. A bigger plane, in the view of some analysts, would undo everything they’ve done.
Some analysts are also worried about the resale value of an A380, once the planes come off their lease and enter the secondary market. With weak sales and limited interest today, aviation experts say, the plane’s resale value could potentially depress new A380 prices even further.
In his aerie in Dubai, Clark appears untroubled by these considerations.
Clark has repeatedly said he would buy more planes if Airbus could deliver them fast enough.
“My view is that we’ve all got to tough this out,” he says. “As I say to my friends at Airbus: Don’t bottle this. The day will come again. The global economy will take care of you.”
He has encouraged Airbus to build an even bigger version of the A380. That, even Airbus would concede, seems unlikely.