Airbus is in discussions with Emirates over installation of winglets on the A380, as the airframer shows off the installation concept on a test aircraft at the Paris air show.
The 4.7m winglet – comprising a 3.5m upper sweep and a 1.2m ventral strake beneath – has been unveiled on the MSN4 test airframe stationed at Le Bourget.
Airbus says it has taken advantage of MSN4 because the aircraft was transferred to Le Bourget as part of a heritage programme in mid-February and did not need to be flown to the show.
This enabled the airframer to quickly manufacture and install a non-flight version of the composite winglet, to illustrate the geometry and style of the proposed modification.
"It's exactly the design we'd want to have on the flying aircraft," says Airbus. It declines to disclose where the winglet has been manufactured or give full details of its structure – although it mentions the use of 3D printing – but intends to reveal more information during the Paris show.
Winglets improve fuel-burn performance by effectively increasing wing span. The A380 winglet has been designed to avoid compromising the crucial '80m box' restriction which enables the aircraft to fit within current airport infrastructure limits.
While the winglet is still formally a development study, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier had previously told FlightGlobal, earlier in June, that the airframer could launch the winglet programme if it secured a substantial order.
FlightGlobal understands that Airbus is holding winglet discussions with Emirates, which has previously pressed the airframer for upgrades to the A380.
Emirates still has more than 40 A380s on order, and close to 100 in service, and the Dubai-based airline has been keen to secure commitments for engine upgrades or other features to enhance efficiency.
Airbus says the "new large winglet" design will not be a retrofit, and would only be installed on new-build aircraft.
"You can't pull out the wing fence and plug in the winglet," it states. It has not indicated how soon the winglet could be certified and put into production, and has also yet to reveal the extent of any changes to A380 wing to account for the modification.
But the winglet installation is intended to be weight neutral, in order to maximise the improvements in fuel-burn and aerodynamic efficiency.
MSN4 is one of two A380 test aircraft moved to the airframer's heritage programme. The second, MSN2, will be transferred to the Aeroscopia museum in Toulouse at the end of next year.