Airbus looks to fit more passengers onto the A380

By David Flynn, May 31 2016
Airbus looks to fit more passengers onto the A380

Some days, says Airbus chief commercial officer John Leahy, it's a wonder he gets any work done.

"I've got a big plasma screen in my office, showing in real time every A380 flying around the world" Leahy explains.

"Today there are 14 daily A380 flights out of Hong Kong, 24 A380 flights out of Los Angeles and 50 A380 flights a day out of London."

"It's mesmerising – I can sit there watching it for hours and not get anything done!" he laughs.

It's estimated that 10% of all passengers in 2016 will make a flight on the A380, up from 8% in 2015.

And in the years to come the A380 could carry more passengers on every flight.

Making the A380 bigger on the inside

"Every airline that flies the A380 says this airplane is a magnet for passengers" says Kiran Rao, Airbus’ executive vice-president for strategy & marketing.

For Rao and his team, the question now is "how we can put more seats on the airline to deliver more value to the airlines?"

It's all about "geometry", Rao says, and making better use of the A380's limited space.

Since launching the superjumbo in 2005 "we have a lot of experience how to move space around the cabin."

Some of these modifications may be less than ideal if you're stuck in economy – but Airbus expects that taken as a whole, the fine-tuned A380 layout could unlock an additional US$23 million in revenue for airlines flying the superjumbo.

Those sidewall storage bins loved by frequent business travellers could be sacrificed to fit up to 10 more business class seats on the upper deck, provided the airline's premium seating is of a staggered design which can make use of the additional space.

"The way seats are set in the aircraft today are different than when we launched" Rio observes, with airlines moving away from conventional forward-facing seats to more space-efficient dovetail layouts.

Airbus also suggests that airlines consider locating the premium economy cabin on the lower deck in a nine-across (3-3-3) pattern, compared to the upper deck 2-3-2 layout adopted by the likes of Qantas and British Airways.

The biggest gains would come from boosting economy class to the much-feared 11 across layout – which Airbus is already selling as a 3-5-3 'Budget Economy' option – to squeeze an extra 23 economy seats onto the lower deck.

Here's the official Airbus PR pic, showing a middle seat which nobody will want to be stuck in.

Airbus' A380 budget economy seating. Airbus
Airbus' A380 budget economy seating

Read more: Airbus reveals A380 'Budget Economy' seating, 11-across squeeze

Rao is quick to emphasise that such changes would be "without comprising on the comfort of passengers – even if we go from 10 across to 11 across in economy, you're still in an 18 inch wide seat."

Combing the multiple crew rest compartments of today’s A380s into a single below-decks space, instead of at the rear of the passenger decks, could also free up room a handful for economy or premium economy seats.

Photos: the Airbus A380's secret hangout zone for cabin crew

Also being considered is a new design for the rear stairwell which connects the upper and lower decks, which could add 14 economy seats down the back of the bus.

David Flynn travelled to Hamburg as a guest of Airbus.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1529

3-5-3 – welcome to mighty A380 “paradise”! So now it became not only being ugliest plane outside, but indeed became ugliest inside as well. And looks like J pax also not “forgotten”. 


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1529

BTW I do not believe in quoted 10% - may be, just may be pax-kilometers, but not just pax, no freaking way!

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 621

I don't hv any direct+credible traffic data to back me up on this theory:

Regardless of which metric(i.e. pure head count or RPM /RPK) is being used, if Airbus claim 10% of all worldwide traffic fly on 380, I suspect there's @ least 25%(i.e. 2.5x more) of all worldwide traffic fly on 777.

Just some simple math fm basic type/fleet data related to my theory:

A) Total airframes in active duty today:


777=Over 1,300 (Or 680% of all 380)

B) Nominal seat count for the most produced variant respectively:

388(Only 1 variant so 190units)=544

77W(642units)=386 (Or 71% of a 388)

C) How many seats @ any given moment anywhere on earth for the entire global active fleet of each type:

388= 190units x544seats =103,360seats

77W =642units x386seats =247,812seats



Not even counting other 777 variants(At least another 600 frames), there're physically about 2.5x more seats across all 77W than across all 388 on earth.  And I don't think a typical 77W flies significantly shorter avg distance than a typical 388.

I'm not trying to dispute numbers quoted by J.Leahy/Airbus....just trying to put certain claim, outrageous or realistic, into perspective.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 464

I think the claim is that 10% of all people who travel by air will make at least one A380 flight in the year.  It seems like a statistic invented for the sales team (and designed to make you think it means something different!)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2540

It's exposure of passengers to the A380 - 10% of all people who will fly this year will make at least one trip on the A380.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1529

Then it is unrealistic numbers that is no more than some kind of marketing gimmick. Using the same logic one can found that exposure to 777 would be (lets say) 70%, to 330 50%, to 320 60% and so on rendering total exposure percentage well above 100%.

Moreover if this is exposure (i.e. percentage of pax that flew A380 as least once among all pax during a year) then 10% is ridiculously low number saying that A380 is nowhere workhorse of long distance routes. And indeed only Emirates has big A380 fleet of 78 planes. Yet even Emirates has 114 variants of 777 and a dozen of 330/340. Next is Singapore with 19 A380 and 56 B777, 28 A330 and 3 A350. Then we have Lufthansa with 14, Qantas with 12 and BA with 11. Among those Qantas perhaps have biggest proportion of A380 and yet operates 11 B747 and 28 A330 variants.

So yes, A380 flying, but fanfaring that they dominate sky (or even long routes for this merit) is sheer overstatement.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 621

To be fair, if cabin floor height is raised appropriately(A costly  reengineering & cert exercise for Airbus though), max main deck cabin width of a 380 can indeed technically accommodate Y @ 18in seat width across 11 abreast along with std aisle width.

Of course in practice, leg room @ the window seats will be compromised due to the curvature of the lower cabin wall(i.e. curved inward towards the floor) and as usual, nobody will want the center seat in the middle row of 5....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 502

3-5-3 literally blows my mind away!

21 Oct 2015

Total posts 26

3-3-3 in PE is also nutty.

Desperate sales pitch for A380. Time will tell.

20 Apr 2014

Total posts 93

the wrong plane for the wrong time - no amount of contortionism will change the failed economics of the 380

Airbus needs to realise for a considerable number of airlines, point to point, with increased frequency is a more viable strategy for the market, which they operate in.

There will come a point of saturation for the ME3, where their hub-spoke strategy will no longer be effective. The development, or lack thereof, of the economy in the Sub-Continent and Africa will decide the ME3 future direction. 

Side storage bins is a draw card for the A380. If that is gone I'd rather fly on a 77W or A330. What a foolish thing to do.


04 Apr 2014

Total posts 207

For sure. Take those bins away?  Daft.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1025

The side bins are the reason I book on an A380 (or upstairs on a 747).

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 146

3-5-3. That takes me back to the dark old days of 1979 when I flew my first international flight on an Air NZ DC10. Got stuck in the middle seat of 5 all the way to LAX. Never made that mistake again, and have had an aisle seat ever since.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

13 Jun 2013

Total posts 29

Snap!  I was thinking exactly the same thing, I used to work on Check-in for Air NZ in those days and it's where we hated to seat pax.  Or occassionally sat the rude people ;)  Our bad.

But to go 11 abreast on an A380 would lead to aisles so narrow you'd struggle to walk down, similar to current Ethiad B777 at 3-4-3 (I believe?) which is hated by pax.  I'd never fly an airline who had that config.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 192

it start looking like those live animal transport vessels-simply pathetic to put 5 seats in the middle-well rather look for other airline that won't utilize this lunatic idea and concept.

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