ILA: Airbus demonstrates faith in A380

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Sluggish sales of its flagship model have not dented Airbus’s insistence that the market for the A380 will grow as the number of international hub airports increases.

Speaking as the ILA Berlin air show opened today, Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy said the number of A380s “serving the German market” will grow nearly fivefold over the next two decades. While 21 superjumbos were employed for flights to and from the country last year, he expects that number to rise to 97 aircraft by 2032.

This will be driven by the increasing number of international hub airports as airline traffic expands, particularly in the emerging markets in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. While there are about 40 aviation “mega-cities” today – such as Dubai, London and Singapore – Airbus estimates that the number will more than double to nearly 90 over the next two decades.

In Germany, Dusseldorf would become a major international hub aside from the country’s two existing main gateways in Frankfurt and Munich, says Leahy. But as airport infrastructure expansion is outpaced by air traffic growth, he argues that it will be “physically impossible” to transport more passengers without an increasing number of very large aircraft such as the A380.

Airbus has delivered 128 A380s since the type entered service in 2007, and has a backlog of 196.

Meanwhile, the airframer's new A350 is “on track” for certification and entry into service in the third and fourth quarter of 2014 respectively, says Gunter Butschek, chief operating officer and head of Airbus’s German operations. Four test aircraft have amassed more than 1,600 flight hours in around 350 sorties since the first flight last year, he says.

Evacuation tests have also just been conducted for the widebody in Toulouse, although this was only done with a partial passenger load. Airbus says the test focused exclusively on using the aircraft’s doors 1 and 3, as these are equipped with new-style “single slides”, while all other doors are equipped with escape chute types that are already in use on other aircraft.

Airbus will reach a production rate of two A350s per month by year-end and increase that to 10 per month by 2018, says Butschek. The manufacturer has 812 orders for the long-haul twin.

Meanwhile, test aircraft MSN4, which arrived at the ILA site on the eve of the show, was due to return to Toulouse as the first day drew to a close.