If you think the Airbus A380 is already a tightly-packed plane, wait until you see what’s next: a supersized superjumbo with as many as 22% more seats, and an optional 11 seats across in economy.
Airbus revealed the revised A380 layout at its Airbus Innovation Days international media conference in Toulouse, saying that slimline seats and changes to the cabin layout helped boost the bum-count, but held firm that it meant “no compromise in passenger comfort” while also delivering airlines a 7% reduction in cost-per-seat.
The new floorplan boasts 558 seats spread across a standard three-class configuration of first, business and economy, compared to today’s 490 seats in the same mix.
Airbus has allowed for 10 first class mini-suites and 84 business class seats on the upper deck.
Most of the 464 economy seats are found on the lower level but there's also a smaller economy cabin upstairs, nestled behind business class.
Those seats remain in the conventional 10 abreast (3-4-3) layout with 32 inch seat pitch and 18.5 inch width.
The 600-seat superjumbo
“You can even go beyond 558 seats if you take away first class and do a two-class layout, and you get another five rows (of economy)” says Christopher Emerson, Airbus’ Senior Vice-President of Marketing.
That would boost the tally to 598 seats for a 22% increase on the standard 490 seat A380.
The push to fill the world’s largest passenger jet with even more passengers comes on the back of continued growth in travel, especially in Asia.
The A380 is designed to serve what Airbus calls ‘aviation mega-cities’ – airports which see more than 10,000 long-range international passengers every day.
Today that accounts for 42 destinations which Airbus says serve 90% of the world’s long-distance international travel market to fly from, to or through those airports.
By 2021 that’s predicted to jump to 67 mega-cities – eight of which will be in the Asia-Pacific region – and capture over 95% of long-distance travellers.
Sardine mode: 11 abreast seating
By then, even a 600-seat A380 might not be enough to sate the airline’s demands. Cue the heavy organ music, the smoke machines and the appearance of 11 abreast seating in economy.
If it counts for anything, Airbus doesn’t seem too keen to tread this path, even though it lists an 11 abreast option for airlines wishing to “further optimise” the cheap seats.
“Airlines today are not utilising the total capacity of the A380” Emerson explains, “so going (immediately) to 11 abreast is not the first decision you would make as an airline.”
“The first decision you’re going to make is how do I optimise my business class and first class” he reasons.
Emerson believes that many airlines operating the A380 chose to position their first class cabin on the lower level.
The move was made partly out of concern that the pointy end of the upper deck would be too noisy (based on airline’s experience with the Boeing 747, he claims) and also because direct boarding of passengers onto the upper deck wasn’t available at many airports during the A380’s early days.
However, the narrower upper deck is better suited to a more efficient use of space for first class seats in a four-across (1-2-1) layout.
For this reason, airlines could move “premium seating from the main deck to the upper deck, so you can get more economy seats on the main deck”.
“By the time you get to 11 abreast you’ve already found the optimum level of comfort and capacity and you have nowhere else to go” Emerson says.
However, Emerson is quick to stress that he doesn’t see 11 abreast seating as being the solution “for all A380 markets.”
“You’re not going to fly 11 abreast in long-haul flights. 11 abreast is designed for airlines who need that ultra-dense capacity and for shorter flights.”
David Flynn attended the Airbus Innovation Days 2013 event in Toulouse, France as a guest of Airbus.
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