Vietnam Airlines emerges as possible customer for new A380 variant

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Vietnam Airlines is waiting for Airbus to provide more detailed specifications for a new higher gross weight variant of the A380 before deciding whether to order the superjumbo.

The flag carrier revealed last November that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus covering four A380s. Vietnam Airlines chief executive Pham Ngoc Minh told Flightglobal on 22 June that the carrier has still not committed to acquiring A380s and the superjumbo is still "under study".

Minh says while a final decision has not yet been made Vietnam Airlines is leaning towards waiting for "the next generation of the A380" to become available. He adds that Airbus has informed him the manufacturer should be able to deliver to Vietnam Airlines in 2014 or 2015 A380s with a higher gross weight and more range than the current variant.

Flightglobal reported in May that Airbus was about to begin producing an upgraded A380-800 that features a 4t increase in maximum take-off weight and an additional 190km (100nm) in range. The launch customer of the new variant, British Airways, is due to take the first upgraded A380 in 2013 and the higher gross weight is expected to be subsequently available as an option for other customers.

Minh says Vietnam Airlines is interested in acquiring A380s with more range than the current variant as it may operate the type on long-haul routes to the USA. But he says for now Airbus is unwilling to guarantee the performance the carrier seeks.

"We have to wait a bit. We have to make sure they meet the performance guarantee," Minh says.

He adds that the airline may have to wait until next year to find out if Airbus can meet Vietnam's desired operating specifications, but "if they can commit earlier we can conclude [the deal] earlier".

Airbus has not yet booked an A380 order from Vietnam Airlines. Last November the manufacturer confirmed it was talking to the carrier about the A380 without elaborating on a possible timescale for the negotiations or the number of aircraft that could be involved in the deal.