Airbus is promoting its A380 programme by emphasising the double-deck type’s apparent advantages in cabin layout flexibility over smaller widebodies.
The European airframer claims that airlines are sacrificing capacity on long-haul trunk routes with high passenger volume as carriers respond to market demand for more diversified cabin classes, particularly premium economy seating.
Single-deck widebodies can carry a maximum of 300 passengers in a four-class cabin layout due to the approximately 80m fuselage length limit, says Chris Emerson, Airbus’s senior vice-president of product strategy and market forecast. If airlines want to have greater capacity on long-haul trunk routes, he says “the only way is up” by placing passengers on a second deck.
British Airways’ A380 cabin layout – which features economy and business classes on both decks with different numbers of seats abreast – is a typical example for operators trying to match passenger seating to different customer demands even within one fare bracket, says Emerson. While this trend is going to increase – particularly for economy class, which accounts for about 85% of long-haul passengers – the introducing different seat arrangements means that airlines have to compromise on capacity, he says. “On trunk routes, this means you spill passengers resulting in loss of revenues.”
Airbus forecasts that trunk route traffic will increase as the number of major global hubs is set to more than double from 42 such cities today to 89 in 2032.
Meanwhile, the airframer is discussing with several airlines a capacity increase on the A380 by adding another seat per row on the main deck, bringing to the total number to 11-abreast.
Airbus blames the flat sales of the flagship A380 programme mainly on the economic turmoil over the past years, as the type entered service a year before the 2008 financial crisis. Singapore Airlines placed the last A380 order for five aircraft in December 2012, while Lufthansa cancelled three. The production backlog stood at 144 aircraft at the end of October 2013. However Emirates is expected to place a follow-on order for the type today during the Dubai air show.
Emerson says that airlines are now in a “transitional phase” after operating in a volatile environment for five years. Once operators are convinced that growth is returning, they will increase capacity and “we will be back in a market like before 2008”, he says.