NEWS

Airbus May Delay A380 Upgrades Past 2022

Airbus A380 at 2013 Dubai Air Show
Back in July 2015, Fabrice Bregier, Airbus Group SE’s airliner unit Chief Executive Officer (CEO) said that  the plane manufacturer has plans to offer an improved version of its A380 for service by 2025 although no decision has been made on whether to offer new engines.
Airbus plans to move to an “A380 neo type” for introduction between 2020 and 2025, Bregier told London’s Sunday Times in an interview. The executive said the planemaker would likely pick just one engine type, not two, as with the current A380, for any new A380 with new engines. 

Airbus A380

Fast forward to November 2015, the CEO told an audience at an industry gathering in New York that update to the A380 in 2022 may be too early.

“While buy-in from Emirates is crucial, Airbus still must justify to other airlines that an upgraded aircraft has a market”, Bregier said.

“People love the A380 as passengers. But airlines don’t,” he said.

Analysis

Last year was the first year in more than thirty years where there were no new orders placed by commercial airlines for mega four-engine aircraft types like the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380. This is a stronger signal yet that the industry is shifting towards higher frequency using smaller, twin-engine planes like the Boeing 777/787 or the Airbus A330/A350.

Airbus A330-300 Enhanced 242T Before First Flight
Airbus A330-300 Enhanced 242T Before First Flight
Credit: Airbus (All Rights Reserved)

The Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 have been big sellers in the past 10 years  and created new non-stop route opportunities for airlines like Air Canada (News – July 20, 2015) and Singapore Airlines (News – October 13, 2015).

Airbus A350 formation
Airbus A350 formation
Credit: Airbus (All Rights Reserved)

Business Case for A380

  • The recent drop in fuel prices to multi-year lows brings operating costs down for the double-decker.
  • Passengers cite comfort, less noise and a smooth ride as reasons for liking the A380
  • With capacity beyond 600 passengers in a two class and 700 passengers in a one class configuration, the aircraft ferry more travellers to different airports with congestion challenges (such as London Healthrow (LHR), Beijing Capital (PEK), Los Angeles (LAX)).  (Future travellers had the first glimpse of the new 615 seats Emirates A380-800 at the 2015 Dubai Airshow – video below)

Challenges for the A380

  • Besides Emirates, not many other airlines have indicated high interests in a stretched or new engined A380
  • Within the next five years, Emirates may place some older A380s in the secondary market. Airlines who were interested before may find good prices here.
  • An Airbus A380 may require a higher breakeven load as variables like crew count (18-28), fuel /maintenance costs (4 vs 2 engines) and airport costs are higher.
  • There are still major airports in the world that is not certified for A380 operations. Capacity improvements are necessary to find new markets for the double decker. This is not an issue for the Boeing 747-8 or the future 777X (News August 28, 2015)

Engine Options

Emirates made a decision to switch over to Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines for all future A380 deliveries (News – April 17, 2015). This would sway Airbus to only consider this company for all engine development for the newer A380 variant over General Electric and Pratt & Whitney who currently offers the Engine Alliance GP7000 series.

Final Call

Airbus is in a tough spot in pleasing its biggest customer for the A380 program as well as balancing other market economics. The timeline for the new A380 will likely be further delayed as additional market studies are conducted with other airline customers.

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