The A380 has experienced a huge return to favour in the last 12 months, with surging global demand seeing it reclaim its lofty title as the ‘queen of the skies’. But is it time for a superjumbo successor? Emirates President Sir Tim Clark thinks so.
“The math tells you that you need a big unit, much bigger than we're getting at the moment,” Clark explained to CNN Travel earlier this week, while also revealing his wishlist for what a possible new aircraft could entail.
Prior to the pandemic, travel was increasing by 4.5% each year. Once we return to those levels, it would take just 10 to 15 years to see global demand increase by half. And yet, with many A380s set to be phased out by the mid-2030s, there may not be an aircraft up to the job.
“Even with multiple 787s and A350s all busy flying around the world, I still don't get how you will pick up that growth curve,” Clark added. “Supply will be suppressed, demand will continue to grow, and when that happens prices rise, it's inevitable.”
Among the ideas Clark floated for a new aircraft were a lightweight composite fuselage and wings, together with radical ‘open fan’ engines, in line with the industry’s commitment to greater sustainability.
"If you can get them to do what I think they could do in terms of fuel efficiency and power, then you have the makings of an airplane that would match or beat the economics of the [twin-engine aircraft] that we see today, by quite a long way," he elaborated.
“Imagine a composite wing and a predominantly composite fuselage. Imagine engines that are giving you a 20 to 25% improvement compared to what you get today. So you get a lighter aircraft, far more fuel-efficient, which ticks all the boxes as far as the environmentalists are concerned.”
Currently, the largest planes in production are the Airbus A350-1000 and upcoming Boeing 777-9, which carry up to 410 and 426 respectively, depending on configuration.
However, based on Clark’s calculations, neither aircraft is large enough to truly replace the A380 or meet future demand for air travel. Both are significantly less than the A380’s typical 525.
While it’s doubtful a new superjumbo will come to fruition in the near future, not without some significant savings in fuel and weight, it’s a good case of never say never.
Sir Clark’s comments come just a day after Emirates announced an unprecedented US$2 billion investment in its fleet, including a retrofit of 120 aircraft with the latest cabin interiors and a new menu crowned by unlimited caviar and Dom Perignon in first class.
Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the innovative aircraft, of which 80 of its 123-strong stable have already returned to the skies. The remainder are primed for take off in 2023.
Six of the Dubai carrier’s A380s have been upgraded to feature the airline’s new premium economy cabin, including those currently flying to Sydney, London and Paris, with a further 70 to undergo a refresh later this year.
The A380 made its first flight in 2005 and immediately won over passengers with its audacious scale – its wingspan wider than a soccer pitch. Ultimately though, airlines were turned off by its high operating costs, with Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker famously describing it in 2021 as the airline’s “biggest mistake”.
Neither Airbus or Boeing have revealed plans to build another aircraft to rival it. Although, with travel demand unlikely to slow anytime soon, could it be time to go back to the drawing board?