Airbus is forecasting that the A380's recent upturn in new business is set to continue through this year.
After a lean spell, two new customers have been added in almost as many months, and more deals should follow, predicts Airbus's A380 product marketing chief Richard Carcaillet. "We think this is going to be a busy year. There are a number of campaigns and discussions going on."
The sales revival began in November when Japanese domestic carrier Skymark announced an agreement - yet to be firmed up - for four aircraft, and this was followed by January's order from Asiana for six aircraft, taking total sales - 10 years since the launch - to 244 aircraft from 19 customers (assuming they all firm up). Carcaillet says that the earliest slots now available are for 2015 deliveries.
Prior to the Skymark deal, Airbus had added just two new airlines to its A380 customer list since 2006. This was a breakthrough deal for Airbus, where Japan's deep-rooted industrial links with Boeing have always made the country's airlines a hard sell for Airbus. But Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways - who have been major customers for the Boeing 747 - are longstanding targets for the A380 sales team.
They are already feeling the presence of the A380 from some of the existing operators who operate the type to Japan, and this has been amplified by the deal with Skymark, which will use its four A380s for new long-haul services. "The Japanese carriers operate in a concentrated market and very much have the potential to use this aircraft. It is a matter of time," says Carcaillet.
Most airlines that have signed for the A380 have had big 747 fleets, and there are still some significant operators that are yet to commit. These are largely Asian airlines - like the two Japanese network carriers, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Air and Air China. However, Carcaillet does not rule out securing business from the USA's two big 747-400 operators - Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.
"There is clear potential [to sell A380s to US carriers] which becomes glaringly obvious with the consolidation between Northwest and Delta and United and Continental," Carcaillet says. He expects the A380's benefits to become increasingly clear to the US carriers as the competition grows from rival airlines introducing the double-decker on more of their routes.
Intriguingly, Boeing did not have its stretched 747, the -8I, at the forefront of its Asiana campaign, says product marketing director Keith Stonestreet. "The 747 wasn't coming out as one of the key competitors."
Stonestreet hints that Boeing's unsuccessful attempt to keep the A380 out of Asiana was based around the smaller 777-300ER and the view that the best way to grow capacity was with a larger number of smaller widebodies.
"I don't believe an airline [like Asiana] that has an existing network with key routes into congested points can do without the A380," says Carcaillet.
Yesterday (18 Jan) Airbus announced it was raising the list price of the A380 by 8.4% based on its "outstanding" in-service performance.