When I visited the Airbus factory in Toulouse over ten years ago, executives claimed that A380 operators would never go 11-across in the economy cabin.
At the time that statement seemed plausible. It was before the first superjumbo had even been built and, besides, economy cabins were still relatively spacious.
But nothing is set in stone in the airline business. Now it appears that the Emirates, the airline which introduced passengers to the unpopular 10-across layout on the B777, is actively investigating installing 11-across seating on its A380 fleet.
Quoted recently in the Wall Street Journal, Emirates CEO Tim Clark said, “We’ve tried it [11-across A380 seating]. It works.”
Now Bloomberg has today reported that aircraft leasing firm Doric plans to order 20 A380s by the end of the year. These A380s will then be offered to customer airlines with 11-across economy seating. Although, for obvious reasons, Doric CEO Marc Lapidus, according to Bloomberg, declined to name his prospective customers.
These particular A380s will be configured with as many as 630 seats, which means that this high-density version could carry up to 200 or more passengers more than the existing model.
But why the denser seating? Because Airbus is currently facing a tough time with its A380s. No firm orders have been received this year while some existing customers are deferring orders.
Although the A380 is a very economical plane, its operating efficiency is coming under pressure from planes manufactured by rival Boeing.
All airlines seek to operate the most efficient aircraft. User airlines of Boeing’s B777-300ER have found they can squeeze in more seats to almost equal, or even exceed, the capacity of an A380.
As we reported earlier this year (see news, February 7), Air Canada’s three-class B777-300ERs accommodate a whopping 458 passengers.
By comparison, Korean Air configures its A380 with just 409 passengers while SIA’s A380s accommodate either 407 or 471 passengers depending on the version.
So the B777-300ER carrier scores twice over. The B777-300ER is cheaper to purchase than an A380 while its operating costs are lower. And the situation will not improve because the future version, branded the B77X and which has been ordered by Lufthansa, is being specially designed to seat ten passengers abreast.
That is why Doric believes its high-density 630-seater A380 will redress the balance in Airbus’ favour.
But won’t passengers rebel against ever tighter seating? Maybe not. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the solution says Emirates CEO Tim Clark “is to offer passengers distractions like big meals, frequent snacks and lots of IFE (inflight entertainment)”.
Meanwhile, such publicity will not be welcomed by Airbus as the denser A380 layout goes against its recent campaign of having 18ins wide seats as an industry standard for long-haul economy. (see news, October 28).
All A380s currently in airline fleets are configured 3-4-3 in economy class with 18ins wide seats. Move to 11-across and chances are that seat width will be up to an inch narrower.