The debate over whether there is market demand for an aircraft the size of the Airbus A380 mega-jumbo may shift decisively in favour of the European manufacturer this week.

If, as expected, Emirates Airline does order an additional 23 aircraft, it will take the order book to 126, more than halfway to the break-even point for the programme.

"We have been told by the guys in Seattle that there is no market for this aircraft," says Colin Stuart, vice-president marketing, A380. "They believe there is only a small market beyond 400 seats.

"This is not a product that we are bringing to market for a few years. This is a long-term programme and it is there because of four market drivers."

These were airline passenger growth, which despite recent setbacks will continue along historical trends, congestion at airports, environmental pressure and economics.

Stuart says: "The environment is obviously a big issue that effects everyone. We have to make sure that technology and the size of aircraft change to ensure that fuel burn and its ecological effects are not outside what we call sustainable growth."

He adds: "This aircraft brings major benefits on the environmental front."

In terms of noise, the A380 will be half as noisy as the Boeing 747 while offering 35% more seats. Noise reduction has been achieved through an increase in the fan diameter to 116in (2.9m), a specially contoured and lengthened core nozzle on the nacelle and low speed aerodynamic improvements.

Turning to economics, Stuart says the new aircraft will bring double digit operating cost benefits to the airlines.

He compares the promised step change with that experienced by airlines when they introduced the Boeing 747 and compares direct operating costs with those of the Boeing 707.

On airline passenger growth, Stuart says that despite the recent problems, world air travel is expected to continue growing and reach more than eight trillion revenue passenger kilometres a year, up from three trillion plus now.

Critics of the A380 programme have said that the pattern of air travel favours a more fragmented, point-to-point future. Stuart does not expect the traffic pattern to and from Asia to mirror that of the North Atlantic. In Asia, densely populated cities favour the use of ever-larger aircraft.

Sheer scale

The hub airport still has a long life, he says, despite the growth of point-to-point flights. Flying via a hub means convenient connections. The A380 is the solution to increasingly congested hub airports, he adds.

"In the real world there is both fragmentation and consolation and that is reflected in our product range which can serve both."

The sheer scale of the A380 means that airlines will be able to tailor aircraft to what they perceive as customer needs. They will be able to create social areas on board, or install a dedicated business centre. "You could use part of the underfloor space as passenger facilities."

Source: Flight Daily News