Farnborough Air Show

A380 sales continue as weight increases

 - July 16, 2010, 11:38 PM

Emirates Airline could not wait until this week at Farnborough to order more Engine Alliance GP7200-powered Airbus A380 airliners. Instead it chose last month’s ILA airshow in Berlin as the stage on which to announce its plans to acquire a further 32 of the widebodies. The additional aircraft, valued at an $11.5 billion catalog price and to be delivered by 2017, will bring its A380 fleet to 90, representing 38.5 percent of the 243-strong order book. This booking well exceeds the 20 orders from all sources that Airbus chief operating officer for customers John Leahy had predicted in May when doubling his A380 sales forecast for 2010.

Two years after receiving its first A380, Emirates accepted its tenth last month. It also has 70 A350s on order among 95 other aircraft worth a nominal $48 billion from Airbus and Boeing. The Arab airline serves eight cities with the A380 and plans to add two more by October 1, when it also expects to resume New York operations.

Weight Increases
The announcement of the order and the presence of the newest Emirates A380 in Berlin will have boosted Airbus and the 30-plus German major program suppliers, following the aircraft’s hesitant birth and late entry into service. The A380 supports an estimated 40,000 “direct, indirect and induced” German jobs, according to the manufacturer.

The new A380 orders come as Airbus announces increased weights for aircraft being delivered beginning in 2013, permitting increased range or payload. Maximum takeoff weight will grow by around 4,410 pounds to almost 1,263,500 pounds, which will provide an extra 100-nm range– to 8,300 nm–on mtow-limited flights. Services limited by maximum zero-fuel weight will benefit from a 3,300-pound increase in maximum structural payload when a new 811,500-pound max zfw is introduced. The A380’s maximum landing weight also will be increased by 4,410 pounds, to 866,565 pounds.

The weight increases follow Airbus’s analysis of continued full-scale fatigue testing, said programs executive vice president Tom Williams. “[We have been] leveraging output from more than 45,000 flight cycles [to the end of April 2010]. That is 2.4 times the design service goal, and tests are continuing to more than 2.5,” he explained. The higher A380 weights have been achieved through reductions in airframe loads, generated partly through an optimization of flight-control laws and unspecified “minor local modifications.”

Airbus engineers are encouraged by recent A380 progress in ramping-up final assembly following well-documented delays, with Williams claiming that the “major challenges are behind us.” He added that there is a constant reduction in outstanding “out of sequence work” as the manufacturer focuses on stabilizing production.

During 2009, the volume of outstanding work on the two A380 final assembly lines fell by 50 percent, the backlog of production drawings dropped by 80 percent and the time taken to resolve queries decreased by 40 percent, according to Williams. Looking back over the past three years, “out-of-sequence work [has declined] by a factor of seven, from over 350,000 man-hours to around 25,000.” By May, Airbus had managed to meet its targets as planned levels established in early 2007 finally were achieved.

The A380 has carried over 5.5 million passengers on more than 15,000 revenue flights to Auckland, Bangkok, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jeddah, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Manchester, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Zurich, according to Airbus. The statistics suggest an average load of more than 365 people on each flight.

As the global network of A380 services expands from its current 21 routes, product marketing director Richard Carcaillet said the company has identified some 200 potential markets for a super widebody in the A380 class, with “considerable potential to almost triple” to 540 within 10 years.

As annual delivery rates continue to increase toward the long-planned 20 or more, Airbus nevertheless still has to revise plans. For example, Asian operator Korean Airlines will now have to wait until at least next April for the first of its 10 A380s, which previously was slated for handover in December.

More positively, another Asia Pacific carrier–Qantas of Australia– expects to receive its seventh example in the October-December 2010 time frame, permitting Sydney-London flights to become daily. A further three A380s should arrive before next April, in time to provide daily flights between Melbourne and London and six a week to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Emirates’ rival Etihad Airways reportedly has been renegotiating its A380 delivery schedule so that 10 late-2012 units now will arrive the following year or later. Along with fellow Gulf carrier Qatar Airways, the Abu Dhabi operator has been ordering huge numbers of aircraft in recent years in an apparent attempt to “out-Dubai Dubai” in its plans to build a huge tourism industry. The latest Emirates order has not made that endeavor any easier.