A380 ‘delivers’ on promises

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 5, 2009, 11:04 AM

After little more than 18 months’ service, the Airbus A380 very large airliner is delivering on the manufacturer’s commitments, including lowest fuel burn and operating cost and increased revenues and operators’ market share. “The A3XX [as the program was originally identified] promised a lot and the A380 delivers,” said product marketing director Richard Carcaillet.

By last month, 14 examples had been accepted by launch customers Emirates Airline, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. The three operators have generated more than 41,000 flying hours carrying 1.5 million passengers on some 4,200 revenue flights on 11 routes–including the one-stop London-Sydney route (via Dubai or Singapore) on which they compete.

Carcaillet conceded that it is too early in the A380’s life to detect any meaningful trend in aircraft reliability, since high daily use and long-haul services mean that it has been relatively slow to accumulate flight cycles. Combined with a small fleet size, this means there have been wide fluctuations in reliability indicators. Nevertheless, he claimed that three months of delay-free operation for the first production A380 “speaks volumes.”

According to Airbus, the A380 is 17 percent more fuel efficient per passenger than the Boeing 747-400 and that its 8,200-nm range with maximum passengers means it flies farther but it burns up to 8 percent less fuel per seat than will the Boeing 747-8I (a planned derivative of the 747-400). The company has adopted cash-operating-cost per usable floor area as a benchmark to claim margins of 31 percent, 22 percent and 16 percent better than the Boeing 747-400, 777-300ER and 747-8I, respectively.

“The resulting economics not only boost profitability and stimulate demand, but can also enable a growth in market share while maintaining existing profit margins,” said Carcaillet. For example, an A380 daily flight can replace two flights per day by an Airbus A340-300 and a 777-200 on Paris-New York (JFK) route “offering equivalent total capacity, but with a cash-operating-cost saving per passenger of 17 percent,” he said.

Alternatively, seven Singapore-Paris flights per week with 471-passenger A380s could replace ten 278-seat 777-300ER flights. “Here the net result is a [20-percent] increase in total capacity per week and a [21-percent] reduction in cash-operating-cost per passenger [assuming an 80-percent passenger load factor],” according to Airbus. An airline could save almost $8 million a year in costs while increasing route capacity by some 27,000 seats.

Airbus has taken orders for 200 A380s from 16 customers, which it forecasts will require a further 400 of the double-deck aircraft by 2029. After accounting for 20 current orders for the Boeing 747-8I within open demand for 1,275 aircraft, the European manufacturer argued that other airlines will need a further 675 A380s.

“Our analysis shows clear traffic growth and market-share gains, with the A380 drawing more passengers–some from non-A380 operators on the same route,” said Carcaillet. He claimed extra overall revenue accrues to A380 operators because of increased load factors and through exploitation of “the A380 premium” or the “step-change in efficiency.”

Inevitably, Airbus has suffered from the effects of the global economic crisis, which contributed to the manufacturer adapting its A380 delivery schedule for 2009-10. Under the new plan, 14 aircraft are expected to be delivered this year, rather than the 18 scheduled at the previous rescheduling of deliveries.

Next year is slated to see more than 20 A380s joining customers, according to Airbus. This may mean 21 deliveries, the volume cited previously for 2009 and the next few years. The manufacturer said future production rates and deliveries will depend on market demand and availability of customer financing.

Despite the cutback in this year’s production, Airbus still can point out that A380 manufacturing continues to ramp up, since it will deliver more aircraft this year than previously. Contributing to the change was the April decision by Qantas to defer its seventh through tenth A380s by 10 to 12 months. Subsequently, Qantas said last month that the next example–its fourth–was delayed from the end of May to mid-July due to production issues. A further two are scheduled for delivery this year.

“We will slow down from the ramp-up plan toward the end of the year,” confirmed programs executive vice president Tom Williams. “We were going from two a month to three; instead, we’ll now go to two-and-a-half.” Observers believe Airbus could have maintained its 18-ship target, since most of the A380s were for current operators rather than initial “head-of-version” examples that would have introduced an additional new cabin layout to be completed by the manufacturer.

Only Air France-KLM at the end of this year will constitute a “new” customer and the French-Dutch operator is to be followed in early 2010 by Germany’s Lufthansa. In mid-May, eight A380s were in various stages of cabin furnishing or painting at Findenwerker, near Hamburg, with a further 11 in final assembly in Toulouse.

Last month, Singapore Airlines confirmed it was about to receive two A380s and that it would take the remaining three planned for this year. “We want them to continue with our fleet renewal,” said chief executive Chew Choon Seng.

As those deliveries continue, Airbus said the carrier is introducing A380s on  its Singapore to Paris flights this month, while Emirates begins Dubai flights to Toronto and Bangkok. Carcaillet described the Gulf carrier’s decision earlier this year to cease service to New York as “normal airline management.” Emirates will introduce Singapore and Seoul operations in November and December, respectively. Air France-KLM will inaugurate A380 service with Paris-New York flights in November, he said.

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