Dubai Air Show

A380s proliferating on worldwide routes

 - November 12, 2009, 9:44 PM

While it might seem to have been only yesterday that Airbus launched the mighty A380–and scarcely five minutes since the double-deck widebody entered service with Singapore Airlines (SIA)–by the first quarter of 2010 there will be five carriers with almost 30 aircraft flying on many of the world’s most important routes. As of mid-October, the 19 A380-800s already in service had accumulated 75,000 hours during 7,900 flights (equivalent to an average sector time of about 9.5 hours) and carried some 2.5 million passengers–an average of 320 passengers per flight.

Indeed, many Dubai show attendees have traveled here from Asia, Australasia, Europe or North America aboard the four-engine airliner. Anyone who has still has not seen the A380 for themselves should have plenty of opportunity here, with local carrier Emirates Airline taking delivery this month of its sixth aircraft.

According to A380 product marketing director Richard Carcaillet, the so-called very large aircraft (VLA) has generated “clear traffic growth and market share gains,” with some travelers being drawn from competing non-A380 operators. “It also shows load factor increase and evidence of fare policies exploiting the A380 premium or the step-change in efficiency resulting in increased overall revenue.”

As the global network of such services–also provided by Australian flagcarrier Qantas Airways–continues to expand, the manufacturer is claiming it takes an A380 to compete with an A380, since its launch customers are already flying head-to-head use on certain routes. “The proof is clearly evident on the [London-Sydney] “kangaroo” route, where all three launch customers fly it,” said Carcaillet.

SIA’s Rolls-Royce Trent 970-powered A380-841s serve both cities from Singapore, which also provides a stepping stone to London for Qantas, while Emirates also serves the two locations from Dubai. When Emirates introduces flights to Singapore, scheduled for next month, all three customers will serve all three cities. This will permit travelers to fly the A380 on a sort of “behemoth triangle” of routes linking Dubai, Singapore and Sydney, embarking from any of the three points.

Another A380 service Emirates expects to inaugurate in December is that to Korean capital Seoul, which will become the airline’s seventh destination for the VLA after Auckland (via Sydney), Bangkok, London, New York, Sydney and Toronto. Paris A380 flights from Dubai are planned to begin in February next year and should be followed before July by resumption of flights to New York, where service was dropped to provide for the introduction of Bangkok and Toronto flights.

Emirates expects to have 11 A380-861s, powered by Engine Alliance’s GP7270 turbofans, by the end of next March. The airline now operates five and three more are reported to be scheduled for delivery before year-end. A total of four are due next year, with a further five expected in 2011 and at least one in 2012.

Qantas is to receive its fifth and sixth Rolls-Royce Trent 972-powered A380-842s in December after the flight stability of the fifth, scheduled for November delivery, was found to be outside limits. The airline, which has deferred delivery of aircraft numbers seven to 10–from 20 on order–by up to a year because of the global economic situation, said further testing is required.

Later this month, Air France-KLM is to introduce its A380-861s to European transatlantic operations, with the first flight from Paris to New York. The aircraft will be delivered in a three-class configuration, but AF-KLM is considering introducing a “super-economy” section in its cabins. German flagcarrier Lufthansa, which flew its first A380-841 last month, should build up its fleet quickly next year to five aircraft, with another five due to arrive in 2011.

Six months ago, Airbus said it expected to deliver 14 examples this year and in 2010 more than 20, possibly 21, the annual total previously planned for early years of A380 production. At the end of September, Airbus parent EADS chief executive Louis Gallois confirmed the company was in discussions with SIA on possible deferment of an A380 handover from December to January, thus reducing official planned 2009 deliveries to 13. Unofficially, others delivered or scheduled this year have been three for Qantas, four each for SIA and Emirates, and the first two for Air France-KLM.

Despite this SIA hiccup, Airbus appears set to achieve the 21-per-year target production in 2010. Emirates and Lufthansa are earmarked for five each, Singapore four and three A380s each are destined for Qantas and Air France-KLM, with Korean’s initial A380 making up the balance.

In addition, the second flying A380-841–there also were two airframes built for fatigue and static tests–is being outfitted as the first VIP-aircraft conversion for Saudi Arabian customer Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It is expected to be delivered in the second quarter of 2010. Maintenance and cabin completions company Lufthansa Technik sees a market for up to five corporate or VIP A380s and has a slot available for one such completion in late 2013.

Here in the Gulf, perhaps confirming Carcaillet’s dictum that it takes an A380 to compete against an A380, Qatar Airways and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways–both seemingly trying to “out-Dubai Dubai”–are among early A380 operators. Qatar is reported to be in line for its first A380-800 in early 2012, while Etihad’s initial A380-861 is slated for 2013 delivery. Several other airlines have deliveries on their schedules.

SIA has replaced Boeing 747-400s and Boeing 777-300ERs with A380s. Carcaillet said the airline’s London operation demonstrates how the VLA is driving efficiency. “In the [Northern Hemisphere 2007-08] winter, this route was served by 21 B747-400s. Last winter it was served by 14 A380s and seven 777-300ERs,” he said, claiming a 22-percent increase in capacity and a 15-percent reduction in fuel burn per seat.

Emirates replaced 777-300ERs and Airbus A340-500s with A380s. Although Qantas has said the VLA does not directly replace any type, it has retired its last 747-300s and put A380s on 747-400 routes to London and Los Angeles and is expected to extend this move to points such as Hong Kong, San Francisco and, possibly, Frankfurt.

However, on the other side of the coin, Malaysia Airlines reportedly might consider substituting smaller A330s for its six A380s.