Airbus has found itself on the receiving end of a hefty load of criticism from its largest A380 customer.
The latest chapter in the story of the A380 is one of the operational troubles encountered by Emirates. German publication Der Spiegel reported Monday that the Dubai-based airline provided Airbus with a detailed presentation of its complaints with its 489-seat A380s warning of a possible "loss of confidence" in the aircraft.
Emirates, which has received four A380s, served as the launch customer for the Engine Alliance (Pratt & Whitney-General Electric) GP7200 engines when it launched service during the Summer of 2008 between Dubai and JFK.In a 46-slide presentation, the aviation experts painstakingly listed what they viewed as the giant jet's serious growing pains. To illustrate their points, they included snapshots of singed power cables, partially torn-off sections of paneling and defective parts of thrust nozzles in the engines as evidence of what they described as a shoddy work ethic at Airbus and its suppliers.
Emirates' first route was the longest regular A380 flight to-date between Dubai and JFK at over 12 hours. Singapore Airlines, the first airline to operate the A380, took a more conservative approach to its entry into service. SIA's first A380 routes had the superjumbo flying seven hour flights between Singapore and Sydney. Of the three A380 cities currently served from Singapore by SIA, two are under eight hours away.
To provide a bit of historical context, it's important to remember that the A380 is the longest range first generation airliner to fly 12-14 hour stages within its first year of service. The 747, 777, A330 and A340 all evolved over time to fly these long routes.
Erkan Pinar, who serves as commercial director at a German MRO, suggests that the distinguishing factor for Emirates could be attributable to the sandy climate of its Dubai home base. By contrast Singapore and Sydney are much hospitable climates, even with the increased humidity.
Overall, Emirates has insisted its view on the superjumbo is unchanged and quell any concern about a change in its order:
"Technical issues are expected with new aircraft. Naturally we want these to be resolved as soon as possible."Though the in-service issues encountered by Emirates are not felt exclusively by the Dubai-based carrier. Both Singapore Airlines and QANTAS - albeit to a lesser extent - have encountered these micro-level issues, yet they may be vastly outweighed by the macro-level challenges facing the worlds airlines.
Looking beyond operational reliability, the A380 faces a much deeper problem in the the economic downturn. For airlines, dropping premium travel (first and business), has helped to cripple revenue potential:
"ATA today released its latest premium traffic report showing customers traveling on first and business class tickets in January fell 16.7%, a significant decrease from December's 13.3% drop year-over-year."A 2004 analysis of the A380 weighs the importance of premium passengers on the aircrafts viability:
While the "premium" (first and business class) component of the traffic is smaller than the economy portion, premium traffic in fact generates over half of the total (passenger) revenue potential.The report assumes a two-class 555-seat (125-J, 430-Y) A380 with 70% load factor on a 4000 nm route with premium seats being sold for five times more than economy seats. A broad look at today's A380 fares reveal roughly similar pricing models, though slightly lower seat counts.
One industry expert with direct knowledge of Emirates' JFK operations tells FlightBlogger that January and February load factors took a significant hit with several A380 flights operating with less than 100 passengers on board. Emirates announced yesterday that it planned to downsize its daily JFK service to a 777-300ER and redeploy the twin A380s to Toronto and Bangkok later this year.
Air France has postponed delivery of two A380s to preserve operating cash for 2009 and 2010 by moving down payments farther out. Though Emirates, which accounts for more than 1/4 of the A380 backlog, has openly dismissed the idea of slowing deliveries as Dubai strains under the crush of the financial crisis.
2009 will see bring the total number of A380s operating globally to 31 and the aircraft will see its second full year of service. Its maturity as an aircraft will be forged amid a global economic downturn and Airbus tasked with overcoming the technical teething challenges that will define its operational life if not quickly resolved. The story of the A380 is far from over.