The shock return of the A380 superjumbo – and what it means for luxury travel

Christian Scherer, head of Airbus’ civil aircraft division, sparked excitement last month when he suggested the European airliner could restart production of its four-engine A380 double-decker superjumbo. Airbus ended production of the $450 million “king of the skies” in 2021 after airlines opted for smaller, more fuel-efficient twin-engine jets. But Scherer told German newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt that while the door to the A380 production line is “closed, it is not locked. In the industry, nothing is ever ruled out.”

The reason for his teaser ad? The A380 is making a great comeback. When Covid hit, many airlines decided to scrap “the big bird” because, with fuel costs rising and demand for business and first class travel predicted to shrink post-pandemic, most more of the opinion that the behemoth would be unprofitable. Premium seats may only account for a quarter of double-decker but generate three-quarters of its operating profit.

With fuel costs rising and demand for high-speed travel predicted to decline, most considered the A380 to be unprofitable.

With fuel costs rising and demand for premium travel predicted to decline, most considered the A380 to be unprofitable – Getty

But Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Korean Air, Japan’s ANA and Etihad, Abu Dhabi’s flag carrier, did a U-turn at 39,000 feet and reintroduced the A380. (Only Air France and Malaysian Airlines stuck to their original decision).

In addition, those airlines that were still committed to the A380 all improved it. Singapore Airlines has revamped its superjumbos, even introducing double beds in Suites Class at the front of the upper deck. Qantas’s A380s now feature designer David Caon’s business class room and bar in the nose cone. British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle recently announced that his airline’s 12 A380s will be retrofitted with the new Club Suite on the upper deck and a new First Class, likely on the upper deck as well, rather than downstairs as it is below present.

New kid on the airport block, Global Airlines, recently received its first A380, which it flew from the United States to Prestwick in Scotland for refurbishment. Global founder James Asquith wants to use a fleet of A380s to “transport passengers back to the golden age of air travel”, starting with flights from London to Los Angeles and New York. The former investment banker is refurbishing the first of four superjumbos he and his investors bought to create a large bar on board. First class ticket holders will be driven to the airport for Global flights. The food and drink will be “the best at 39,000 feet” and will include Laurent-Perrier champagne, even for premium passengers, he promises.

In total, 145 Airbus A380s are back in the air, spread across 10 airlines, according to aviation analysts ch-aviation.

The A380 is back due to double the increased demand and restricted fleets. A new aircraft that many airlines had hoped to replace, the Boeing 777X, the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet, has been around for many years. It should be in the air by now but has been delayed by a combination of post-Covid supply chain snarl-ups and desperate attempts by senior Boeing managers to rescue the firm’s troubled 737 Max, which has turned attention away from new jet development.

Undelivered Airbus widebody jets are seen parked without engines outside the former A380 factory near Toulouse in June, as Airbus faces ongoing supply chain difficulties.Undelivered Airbus widebody jets are seen parked without engines outside the former A380 factory near Toulouse in June, as Airbus faces ongoing supply chain difficulties.

Undelivered Airbus wide-body jets parked without engines at the former A380 factory near Toulouse – Tim Hepher/REUTERS

Predictions of a post-Covid slump in air travel, especially in business and first class, were wildly wrong. In 2022, global air passenger demand increased by 64 percent, compared to the previous year. It is predicted to increase by another 9.8 percent by the end of this year. The only way airlines can meet the growing demand and fill the Boeing 777X gap in their fleets is to revive a jet that many passengers prefer because it offers more space in each class than jets no store.

The most popular revived A380 routes are to expansion-constrained airports – Dubai to London, London to Los Angeles, Dubai to Sydney, London to Singapore. With no new airport slots available at Heathrow and not many at Sydney, it makes sense to use larger aircraft to increase passenger numbers. An A380 can accommodate almost 600 passengers in a three-class configuration.

Scherer’s comments are music to the ears of Emirates boss Sir Tim Clark, who has long argued for the A380 mk II, with a longer fuselage creating an extra 120 seats and more fuel-efficient engines to offset the operating cost of reduce the seats. Emirates is the largest operator of the A380 with 118 in service out of the 123 it has purchased.

While Emirates waits to see if a new A380 could clear the runway, it is spending $2 billion on revamping its current fleet. At a sprawling hangar near Dubai International Airport, at least two A380s are being scrapped and retrofitted every month.

On the lower deck, 56 new premium economy seats are being installed in the nose cone. Behind premium economy, 338 revamped economy seats now have pitch (a measure of legroom) of up to 34 inches, the most generous in the sky.

Emirates' new Premium Economy cabin classEmirates' new Premium Economy cabin class

New Emirates Premium Economy cabin class – RYAN LIM

Upstairs, the 76 new business class staterooms have quilted upper leather seats and lighter wood veneer. The overhead boxes on each side are being removed to create a better sense of space. The bar has a larger sofa on one side and a table for four on the other. The walls of the 14 first class rooms are higher and the seat is wider and better upholstered. Motifs of the gaf tree, a symbol of the United Arab Emirates, adorn walls across the jetty, including in the showers.

Emirates' retrofitted A380 includes the gaff tree, a symbol of the UAEEmirates' retrofitted A380 includes the gaff tree, a symbol of the UAE

A bathroom in the Emirates retrofitted A380 – Emirates

Some of the carrier’s older A380s have been taken down and will be used to supply spare parts to the current fleet to keep it in the air for as long as possible – until maybe, just maybe, a bigger model and better rolled out of Toulouse Airbus. factory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *