Could stretch have saved Airbus A380?
It is more than likely that the days of the Airbus A380 are numbered. As international air travel remains largely in shambles, and with no short-term recovery in sight, airlines have put their A380s into long-term, or even worse, permanent storage. Even before the current crisis, however, its days were coming to an end, as no secondary market was on the horizon for ex-airline units.
Could a stretch, a re-engine or any other design changes have saved the Airbus A380?
Stretching a 72.7-meter giant
One of the first proposals that Airbus offered to airlines was a stretch of the original A380, dubbed the A380-900. Traces of the A380-900 can be found in documents from 2005, as the double-decker’s airport and maintenance planning documents mentioned that a stretch “could be developed when required by the market.”
The stretched variant could seat up to around 1,000 passengers in an all-economy configuration. Currently, the A380 has an exit limit of 868, according to its European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued type certificate.
In 2012, Bob Lange, the manufacturer’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, was quoted as saying that 2020 would be the appropriate time to launch the stretched A380. Increasing the length of the aircraft by 6.4 meters would have allowed airlines to seat more than 100 passengers more in a typical, three-class interior configuration. At Airbus Global Investor Forum in 2014, the company’s former Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier stated that Airbus would “one day launch a stretch,” as it is very obvious that a stretch has “extra potential”. The chief executive also briefly mentioned a re-engined A380, the Airbus A380neo.
“We will one day launch a 380neo,” Bregier told investors in December 2014.
A few months prior, in June 2014, the company’s Chief Operating Officer John Leahy confirmed that Airbus was studying an A380neo.
“When your largest customer is encouraging you to study it, we will continue to study it,” stated Leahy. However, the company did not commit to building it at the time. In December of the same year, reports alleged that the manufacturer was inching ever-closer to an initial agreement deal with Rolls-Royce to upgrade the engines on the Superjumbo. The British manufacturer was already one of the engine suppliers of the A380 program with the Trent 900 family of engines.
The largest customer that Leahy was referring to was, of course, Emirates. The Dubai-based airline’s president Tim Clark remarked that Emirates would have been very keen to upgrade to the neo, eventually replacing all of the airline’s planned 140-unit Airbus A380 fleet. According to Clark, the new engines would have consumed between 12 and 15% less fuel than the current engines, further improving the economics of the A380.
At Dubai Airshow 2015, Emirates’ executive was quoted as saying that the airline “would like them [Airbus – ed. note] to get on with,” the development of the A380neo.
“We’re sending a message that this airplane has scope although others in the industry don’t share that view,” added Clark.
However, with the announcement of the A380plus on June 18, 2017, it seemed like Airbus gave up on the A380neo. The manufacturer presented the newest model of the double-decker in the form of a development study. Its main goal was to reduce operating costs as much as 13% compared to the original design of the A380, including the fact that new winglets would have provided with 4% fuel burn savings, indicated the planemaker.
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