Singapore Air Show

Airbus sharpens its focus on new A380 family members

 - February 11, 2008, 11:55 AM

Airbus continues to consider stretched, longer-range and cargo versions of its A380 very large airliner, but is no longer studying shortbody or combination passenger/cargo variants, according to Richard Carcaillet, head of A380 marketing. Carcaillet told AIN that current engineering activity covers development of the 239-foot standard A380-800 (formerly dubbed Series 100) model and work on a heavier, strengthened airframe structure on which to base other versions.

These versions include an extended-cabin A380-900 (formerly called the -200) and the currently suspended A380F freighter, but Carcaillet said he would be “very surprised” if Airbus ever launched a shortbody A380-700 (formerly -50) and that the projected mixed-traffic “Combi” variant has definitely been dropped.

Airbus has delayed further formal VLA development while it overcomes production delays to the initial A380-800 passenger variant. The prospect of consequent delays to production of the freighter, whose design was frozen 12 months ago, led two cargo operators to cancel orders. Meanwhile, the manufacturer has begun -800 deliveries to Singapore Airlines, which will remain the only operator until shipments begin to Australia’s Qantas and Gulf customer Emirates Airline in about six months.

Carcaillet said that when A380F work was suspended, the aircraft was “within one percent” of the target empty weight. “The cargo design includes lessons learned from the passenger aircraft,” he explained. “We might have further improvements with more [in-service] experience and new technology developments; things don’t stand still.”

When work resumes, the A380F is expected to retain its 5,620-nm range and 150-metric ton payload performance, but Airbus intends to fine tune the design in response to continuing market analysis, Carcaillet said. “The aircraft was always going to be a family, but we will do one thing at a time,” he added.

He said plans for the “strength-ened A380” call for it initially to match the standard aircraft’s 8,000-nm range using a wing of unchanged geometry. It will not rely on “local reinforcement” of the basic A380, he noted, since the new structure, which will employ higher-gauge light-alloy skin panels, has to serve as the basis for multiple developments. Rather, Carcaillet said, airline requirements and available technology will define the structure. “It will be a simple concept in line with [the needs of] airlines that understand aircraft families.”

Extended-Range Variant
The Airbus executive, who is an aerodynamicist, said he is “sure” a sufficient market will emerge to support development of an extended-range (ER) variant to fulfill the A380’s ultimate potential, although no work had been done on a stretched A380-900 since 2001. Carcaillet said it is too early to confirm the precise passenger capacity for this longer cabin variant.

Overall A380-900 length–currently just over 259 feet–is not expected to grow to the full 262.5 feet universally regarded as the maximum acceptable for adequate maneuverability and ground-service access at airports. Previously mooted as a 583-metric ton aircraft, the 656-passenger design currently has a 7,650-nm target range.

The A380’s Heritage
Original plans for the A380 family drawn up under early 1990s’ “A3XX” feasibility studies involved several prospective models: the standard design (Series 100), shrunk (-50), stretched (-200) and longer stretched (-300) variants, and longer range (-100R) and cargo (-F) versions.

A3XX-50 studies combined 480-seat capacity with 8,750 nm range in a shorter fuselage of just under 223 feet. A 1994 Airbus brochure depicts the -100 offering 530- to 570-passenger capacity and 7,400-nm range, while the -100R extended range to 8,400 nm (later 8,750 nm) and adopted the greater weight of the 630- to 670-seat, 7,400-nm-range -200. At that time, a projected A3XX-300 was a 700-seat, 7,000-nm variant.

After launching the A3XX commercially as the A380 in 2000, Airbus adopted the -800 designation for the standard aircraft a year later, with the shortbody becoming the -700.

Airbus now regards the 560-metric-ton A380-800 as a 525-passenger aircraft. It says that cabin-layout requirements have changed as operators increasingly have adopted enhanced cabin configurations. Carcaillet said typical business-class seat pitch has increased from 48 inches to 60 inches, with a consequent reduction of 30 in the overall number of passengers it can accommodate.

Applying the same rationale to Boeing’s competing product, Airbus argues that typical 747-400 cabin accommodation now should be seen as 378 passengers, rather than the normally quoted 416. Likewise, it claims that the 467-seat capacity cited for the latest 747-800 variant (marketed as the passenger 747-8 Intercontinental) is really only about 405 seats, since it is based on a “1970s’ standard 38- to 39-inch business-class spacing.”  Boeing has dropped plans for a slight difference in fuselage extensions adopted for the two 747-800 variants, which now share a common fuselage.