Emirates has Airbus A380s fitted with its all-new premium economy seat ready and "waiting to go", says airline president Tim Clark.
The A380 was intended as the launchpad for Emirates premium economy seat – which Clark has described as a railway-style "sleeperette" design – and in mid-May a spokesperson for the airline told Executive Traveller that "this project is still on the cards, although the launch will be delayed."
Clark has since revealed that factory-fresh A380 aircraft fitted with the seat are now at Airbus' superjumbo facility in Toulouse, telling media at the Arabian Travel Market virtual event that it's "sitting in Toulouse, waiting to go”.
However, with the entirety of its 115-strong Airbus A380 fleet grounded, it could be months – or even stretching into 2021 – until passengers can sample Emirates' 'better than economy, less than business' proposition.
Clark expects demand for international air travel will continue to be cruelled by the coronavirus until there's a widely-available vaccine and "global inoculation programs in place."
The longer that takes, the less need there will be for aircraft the size of the A380 compared to the smaller Boeing 777 and, in future, the fuel-efficient Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, both of which Emirates has on order.
No retrofits for Emirates premium economy
All of Emirates newly-delivered jets are expected to feature the premoum economy seat, but plans to add the seat to existing A380s and Boeing 777-300ER jets have been scrapped in the face of a dramatic coronavirus-led cash crunch.
The Emirates spokesperson has told Executive Traveller "we have no current plans to retrofit our existing fleet in order to safeguard our liquidity, which is of highest priority at the moment."
The seat itself is a new product developed to the airline’s specifications, Clark previously told Executive Traveller, after "a competition among seat manufacturers to spec out the designs that we want."
Clark says the design will fully cradle the legs and feet in "something like lazy-Z" configuration with a 10-inch recline, rather than going fully flat – a trait which will remain the exclusive domain of business and first class.
"It's probably where business class used to be, and in some cases where first used to be in the old days, 30 years ago," Clark reflected.
Emirates' premium economy passengers can also expect much more legroom, with around 38 inches of pitch – up to 6 inches more than economy – while the seat itself will be wider than its economy counterparts and sport a larger inflight video screen.
There was speculation that Emirates' premium economy seat is the new Eclipse design from HAECO, given that the manufacturer has said the Eclipse launch will see "an as-yet-unnamed Middle East-based airline... begin flying with the seats in 2020."
On Emirates Airbus A380s fitted with first class, Clark said the premium economy cabin would be located at the front of the lower deck with “probably as many as 56 seats."
On those Emirates A380s which lack first class, premium economy would be added onto the upper deck with "the same kind of number" of seats as the three-class superjumbos.
Emirates’ Boeing 777 jets would see a smaller cabin, "more likely around the high 20s, 26-28 seats", behind business class but in front of economy.
Additionally, Clark said that Emirates' premium economy would be separate to economy class in order to provide "a degree of exclusivity... and not just a curtain, it'll be a proper cabin," and that "most of the time (premium economy) passengers will have access to their own washrooms."