The A380, nicknamed the ‘superjumbo’, has made a significant impact on the long-haul market since its entry-into-service in October 2007. For most airlines, it’s the flagship of the fleet — thanks to its ability to introduce new levels of passenger comfort into the flying experience. In all onboard classes, the cabin feels more spacious, and passengers frequently take to social media to share their A380 flights, if only to appreciate the giant-size of the jet. An Airbus study noted that 20% of passengers are ready to pay $100 more to fly on an A380, and when I speak to passengers — they’re often quick to share stories with me about their A380 experiences, with most reminiscing positively about their journey.
For the manufacturer, the A380 hasn't been the smooth-sailing success they originally hoped for. The aircraft was introduced amid a deep downturn in the airline business, and even now — airlines opt for several other economically safer aircraft options when ordering planes, rather than be stuck with an aircraft equipped with 500 seats… whereby most flights will not break even if there isn’t a huge demand for passengers on the route.
While the A380 has frequently lost out to smaller, but efficient twin-engine jet… are its best days still ahead? Passenger air traffic has doubled every 15 years since the early 1980’s, and as I noted in last week’s Gulf Times Aviation column, the world’s population are flying more than ever before. As a result, most megacity airports are heavily congested, with airport slots being a nearly priceless resource. The reality is that airlines are unable to accommodate passenger demand at peak times, and while there may be a demand for 500 passengers wishing to fly from London-Doha (and then onwards) at 09:00am on a Friday — the only way to take on that demand is with a larger aircraft. With this in mind, the A380 can maximise revenue for airlines by essentially ‘seizing’ the strong passenger flow at the highest yield times.
At Hong Kong International Airport, one of Asia’s busiest hubs, a plane lands or takes off every minute; but the airport is built on reclaimed land so expanding isn’t currently an option. Instead, the aviation authorities now routinely persuade airlines to bring more passengers in and out on larger aircraft like the A380 — a solution to its congested skies.
The busiest airport in Europe, London Heathrow, is full. The airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye says: “We need to have the largest airplanes operating from our airport to be able to serve more passengers, and that is what the A380 does. It’s the largest plane in the world, and it helps us serve more passengers on very busy routes out of Heathrow and it also frees up slots to serve new routes in North America, South America and Asia that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to serve.”
Airlines in the Middle East have already demonstrated the effectiveness of the A380 for their respective Gulf hub airports, but there’s no denying the fact that the future of the world’s passenger jets are smaller than the A380… but rest assured they’ll look similar from an inside-the-cabin passenger perspective.
This week, I broke the exclusive news that Kuwait Airways will become the first airline in the Middle East to have both the A330neo and the A350 XWB in its fleet – two of the world’s newest, and most efficient long-haul wide-body aircraft. For Kuwait, it’s a smart decision. Passenger demand to/from/via Kuwait isn’t as strong as its Gulf neighbours, and the decision to order the A330neo and A350 XWB reflects how the airline is prioritising economic efficiency over mass capacity. Furthermore, the A330neo shares a ‘common pilot type-rating’ with the larger A350 XWB, meaning pilots that are trained on one, are also licensed to fly the other. The Kuwaiti carrier has a goal of operating one of the world’s youngest fleets, and the order will enable Kuwait Airways to reach that goal while being good news for passengers, who have for a long-time flown on Kuwait’s ageing fleet of airliners.
The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter: @AlexInAir