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Airbus has confirmed plans for what it calls the A380plus – an upgraded superjumbo with fuel-saving winglets as well as seating for an additional 80 passengers spread across business, premium economy and economy class.
The 4.7-meter wingtip extensions designed to improve aerodynamics and reduce drag, together with other wing refinements, will boost fuel efficiency by as much 4%, Airbus claims.
Airlines can opt to order the A380plus with its higher-capacity seating configuration or keep the existing seating configuration to gain an extra 555km of range.
“The A380plus is an efficient way to offer even better economics and improved operational performance,” says Airbus sales chief John Leahy.
The changes come as the European planemaker seeks to revive sales of its flagship aircraft, but falls well short of the so-called A380Neo upgrade that leading customer Emirates has been demanding, but for which Airbus and engine-maker Rolls-Royce say there isn’t a business case.
Instead, the A380plus may still be enough to encourage the Dubai-based carrier to purchase about 20 superjumbos to add to more than 140 it plans to operate.
The enhancements, announced on the eve of the Paris Air Show, come as the Airbus considers dropping production rates for the A380 below one-a-month from 2018 if it fails to secure orders this year.
More seats for the superjumbo
Using what Airbus describes as a series of 'cabin enablers', the average superjumbo seat count increases from 497 to 575 across four classes.
Here's the Airbus rundown of where that space comes from.
Removing the 'grand staircase': relocating the forward stairs to replace the so-called 'grand staircase' (seen below on the Emirates A380) with a more efficient staircase combining the entrance to the upper deck with the adjacent staircase to the lower-deck crew-rest makes room for up to 20 additional passengers in business, premium economy and economy.
A similar redesign of the rear staircase from a spiral configuration to a square one provides space for 14 more economy passengers on the main deck.
Removing the upper-deck sidewall stowage bins: this will be a controversial one, as all business travellers love those deep under-window bins for stowing bags, shoes, PJs and the like. Airbus says "the option to remove the sidewall stowages on the upper-deck increases the wall-to-wall cabin width at foot-rest height – which makes space for up to 10 more business class seats / beds when an angled herring-bone arrangement is used."
Adopting a nine-abreast premium economy cabin on the main deck is good for 11 more premium economy seats compared in an eight-abreast layout, Airbus says (not all airlines even use an eight-across layout, however – Qantas for example currently has an seven-across 2-3-2 design),
Adopting a squeezy 11-abreast 3-5-3 economy layout on the main-deck equates to 23 more economy class passengers.
Combining rest areas for the flight crew (currently behind the cockpit in the superjumbo's 'mezzanine area') with that of the cabin crew in a single crew rest zone on the lower deck frees space for three extra premium economy seats at the front of the main deck.
PREVIOUS | Airbus may swap the prestige of the A380's grand staircase for the commercial lure of fitting more passengers onto the double-decker jet, in an evolution of the superjumbo called the A380 Plus.
It's the same A380 plus more bums on seats, you see.
According to Reuters, the wide staircase connecting the upper and lower decks at the front of the A380 would be slimmed down to less majestic proportions, with some tweaks to the spiral staircase at the rear of the plane.
The reclaimed space would provide room for an additional 40-50 economy seats.
Combined with Airbus' push to have airlines fit first class cabins onto the upper deck, this would take the superjumbo carry over 600 passengers in a standard three-class layout – up from 490 seats in the same mix today.
The A380 Plus proposal would also see fuel-saving vertical tips would also be added to the A380's sweeping 80m long wings to boost efficiency by reducing drag.
Reuters reports that Airbus officials declined to comment on the A380 Plus, saying only that “Airbus is always studying opportunities to improve our aircraft."
The A380 Plus appears to have taken the place of the A380neo – a more fuel-efficient superjumbo with new engines and superior aerodynamics – as the next step for the superjumbo, with Airbus CEO Fabrice Brégier declaring in January "we have studied the possible evolution of the A380neo aircraft and we came to the conclusion that the time was not yet there to launch it."
"So we decided to keep what really makes sense which is to increase the seat count whilst keeping the big advantage of A380, which is the quality as perceived by the passengers – the bars, restrooms and showers and all that and this is what we are doing right now."
The A380 will celebrate its tenth anniversary in October this year, with global launch customer Singapore Airlines expected to mark the event by taking delivery of a new raft of superjumbos fitted with all-new first class suites and business class seats.
Emirates, which remains the largest A380 customer by far with some 93 of the massive jetliners in its fleet, is also working on a second generation of suites inspired by private luxury yachts and railway cabins, following the debut of its new A380 bar.