Monday, August 11, 2014

Is the Airbus A380 a Failure?

The Airbus A380 is cool. Efficient Asian Man says “the 747 is iconic while the A380 looks like a retarded goldfish” but the whale is huge and is amazing to fly.

I still think it feels bizarre at takeoff, flying on the upper deck. It feels underpowered as it glides into the sky, it’s too smooth.

Boarding the entire upper deck from separate jet bridges, you almost don’t realize that there’s a full length plane beneath you.

You can pack it in densely or add amenities like Emirates has done with the shower, or Etihad is doing with their 3-bedroom residence (which isn’t as insane as it sounds, since it leverages what is mostly otherwise dead space).

A New York Times story this weekend contends, though, that overall the A380 is a failure.

  • There are no buyers in the U.S., South America, or Africa. They’ve barely penetrated China or Japan.
  • In 7 years Airbus has delivered only 138 planes to 11 airlines.
  • Word is the plane is being discounted by 50% off list. While aircraft manufactures don’t really sell for list, that’s still a significant discount and early buyers generally get ‘most favored nation’ status where future discounted sales entail rebates to early buyers who may have paid more.

The plane allows British Airways to reduce Los Angeles flights from 3 to 2, saving a slot at Heathrow. But how many places does something like that work? For US airlines the longest haul operations are to Asia, but there aren’t many airlines with multiple flights to the same cities in Asia. London Heathrow is an archetypical airport for A380 operations. So is Tokyo Narita but neither JAL nor ANA is flying the plane.

New York JFK might be, but no US airline has made the move. While the Times quotes a far from disinterested party suggesting United would be a great candidate to fly the plane to Asia, their growth is coming from point-to-point operations that allow the airline to grow its footprint to cities like Chengdu, and that allow them to expand their flying to more of their hubs like Denver.

The only airline whose strategy is centered around the aircraft is Emirates. But does it even make sense for Emirates? At the number of A380 aircraft they already have coming online, they’re throwing it at cities like Dallas.

As it is they aren’t filling their 777. They’re increasing capacity on the route, even as they face competition for Dallas to and through the Middle East with Etihad and Qatar.

Emirates’ Dallas – Dubai A380 schedule is for daily service. Their strategy is different from Qantas. When Emirates put an A380 on Toronto – Dubai, they scaled back to 3 flights a week. Qantas is moving their Dallas – Syndey flight from daily on a 747 to six times weekly on an A380.

I love experiencing the A380, and I love more capacity when that’s the route airlines go in operating the plane. Capacity means unsold seats and more award space. But it’s not clear the aircraft is a win for the airlines themselves, or for Airbus.


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