Four airlines will begin flying the Airbus A380 this year, among them fast-growing Gulf carriers Etihad and Qatar, boosting the superjumbo's customer base from the current count of ten.
Those debuts will provide both a public relations fanfare and a financial fillip for Airbus, which has yet to recoup the estimated €11 billion (A$16.5 billion) development cost of the double-decker jet.
Despite an official sticker price of US$414.4 million (A$459 million) – although no airline pays the full list price – Airbus doesn’t expect to break even on the jet until the end of 2015 at the earliest.
Airbus currently holds orders from 19 airlines for a total of 304 superjumbos and now sits at the halfway point between having 122 aircraft in the air and a further 122 on the way.
So who’s adding the A380 to their fleet this year?
South Korea’s other airline, Asiana, will join competitor and current A380 carrier Korean Air next month with delivery of the first of six A380s, with a second to follow in July.
Asiana's A380 layout mirrors that of many other superjumbos, with first class, business and an economy mini-cabin upstairs plus economy on the entire lower deck.
A dozen OZ First Suites (named after the airline's flight code) are nestled in the nose of the main deck and boasts the world's largest inflight screen – a 32 inch (81cm) high-definition panel – plus a minibar.
The 66 Oz Business Smartium seats are ranked in a staggered layout along most of the upper deck.
Economy is split over both decks, with a 106 seat cabin upstairs and 311 more seats on the main deck.
Asiana plans to begin A380 flights over relatively short-range regional routes from Seoul to Hong Kong and Tokyo from mid-June, followed by Bangkok and Osaka in late July, before rostering the superjumbo onto its daily Los Angeles flight from August 15.
Etihad Airways has signed up for 10 A380s with the first set for a December 2014 delivery.
Sydney, Melbourne, London and New York are all slated as A380 routes fanning out from Abu Dhabi from 2015.
The airline is expected to soon provide a first glimpse of its A380 cabins and seating, with the core product also appearing on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners which it will begin flying towards year’s end.
Japan’s third largest airline, after ANA and JAL, Skymark is the first of the trio to stump up for the superjumbo with an equally ambitious ‘all-premium’ seating plan.
Skymark plans to stack the upper deck with 114 business class seats, while 280 premium economy seats (shown below) will line the lower deck.
And that’s the full complement – no first class and certainly no economy.
Skymark’s spacious premium economy cabin will see the seats arranged in 2-3-2 layout with an extra 8 inches (20cm) of pitch over standard economy seats, integrated leg rests for every passenger and shared AC power sockets.
It's based on the same all-premium economy approach as Skymark's forthcoming Airbus A330s, shown on this page.
The airline hopes to attract passengers onto cut-price flights between Tokyo and New York, potentially followed by London, although business travellers are rightly concerned that Skymark has opted for an angled lie-flat ‘sloping sleeper’ in business class rather than a fully flatbed design.
Airbus will hand over the keys for Qatar Airways’ first three A380s in June to coincide with the opening of Doha's new Hamad International Airport, which has been designed to cater for the A380 with six superjumbo-ready gates.
With ten more to follow, Qatar’s A380 fleet will initially spread its wings on daily flights from Doha to London and Paris.
Upstairs sees an intimate first class cabin of eight suites with an elegant and refreshingly restrained design.
The rest of the top deck belongs to 52 business class seats identical to those of Qatar's Boeing 787 fleet.
There’s also a small economy cabin and a business lounge to separate travellers in the cheap seats from the premium passengers.
The A380's lower deck will be economy from tip to tail.
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