ANALYSIS: BA loads A380s in favour of premium cabin

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British Airways' configuration for its Airbus A380s illustrates a heavy weighting towards premium passengers, with almost the lowest levels of economy seating selected by operators of the type.

It will have just 303 economy-class seats in the A380, only two more than Korean Air which has the lowest figure for economy accommodation.

But BA's combined first- and business-class sections will have 111 seats, higher than any current operator and second only to the 114 indicated by Japan's Skymark Airlines - whose premium section will not have a first-class cabin.

"We've really thought hard about it," says a BA spokesman. "We've made sure we fit a spread of seats over various cabins that we know we're going to be able to fill.

"We don't want to be in the position of removing seats. It's a very expensive job that takes a lot of downtime."

BA's emphasis on the premium cabin of the A380 is bolder than that of European competitors Air France and Lufthansa, but both have opted to shift their A380 configuration balance towards the higher end of the fare spectrum.

Air France has carved out a 38-seat premium-economy section from the economy cabin, reducing the overall A380 capacity from 538 seats to 516.

Lufthansa, which has 106 seats in first and business, is also intending to upgrade economy seats as part of its planned introduction of premium-economy across its long-haul fleet. It has yet to confirm the effect on the layout of its A380s which have 526 seats, but insists the premium cabin capacity will not be reduced.

BA's A380 configuration will already include a 55-seat premium-economy cabin on the upper deck.

Asian carriers have typically opted to retain a three-class layout. Singapore Airlines reconfigured its later A380s but skipped premium-economy in favour of increasing the business-class cabin. It has fitted 26 additional business-class seats, taking the type's overall seating down from 471 to 409.

This low-density configuration is similar to that on Korean Air's 407-seat A380s which accommodate only 301 economy passengers. The other 106 seats are given over to premium cabins, with no premium-economy section.

Malaysia Airlines had considered a premium-economy section but opted instead for greater business-class capacity. Earlier this year the carrier indicated that it expected selling a business-class cabin would be easier.

Thai Airways and China Southern Airlines, among newer operators of the type, have also chosen to fit a three-class configuration. Korea's Asiana Airlines has yet to disclose its A380 seating plans.

Qantas stands alone in having reduced the premium offering on its A380s, cutting back the business-class cabin by eight seats in order to fit additional nearly 40 more economy seats.

Emirates fitted additional economy seats to some A380s, without cutting the premium cabin, as it filled space made available by removal of a crew rest area. This took capacity to 517 seats - the same figure cited by Qatar Airways for its A380 fleet. Qatar Airways has given few other details of its intended configuration, beyond suggesting a 42-seat business cabin. Emirates' A380s have 76 business-class and 14 first-class seats.