Rumours of the death of first class have been greatly exaggerated, says Airbus chief operating officer John Leahy, with competition between airlines shaping a new generation of suites for the A380.
Yes, the superjumbo's launch in 2005 teased some sky-high first class design concepts which were as impressive as they were improbable.
But of the 14 airlines now flying the Airbus A380, only a handful have embraced the spirit of those mock-ups with private first class suites, bars and inflight showers.
As an ever-improving business class continues to narrow the gap, has first class reached its zenith?
Not according to Leahy, who says that the A380 provides scope for raising the bar in both of the premium travel classes.
“With the A380 you can have it both ways” Leahy told Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of the aircraft manufacturer's annual Airbus Innovations Days media conference in Hamburg.
“You can have the super luxurious first class and you can have a very comfortable business class.”
“I think (Emirates CEO) Tim Clark is a master of that – he has his business class, his luxurious first class, his showers and everything else, then he's got a flying pub down the back (in economy) and it still works beautifully.”
It’s not accidental that Leahy namechecks Clark: Emirates is the company’s biggest A380 customer, with 75 superjumbos in its fleet and a further 140 on order.
Emirates is also developing a second-generation A380 suite, which Clark has likened to "a private bedroom on a luxury yacht”, in response to Etihad’s A380 first class ‘apartments’.
“I think you’ll see Emirates going with higher levels of passenger comfort in their first class and business class product” Leahy predicts. “I would not see Tim stagnating, I would see him doing more.”
Similarly, A380 launch customer Singapore Airlines plans to upgrade its first class suites with a noticeably larger footprint in time for the airline's next raft of superjumbo deliveries in 2017.
David Flynn travelled to Hamburg as a guest of Airbus.
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