Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Airbus A380 (Part II): the Constraints on the World’s Largest Aircraft

By: John Walton / Published: March 14, 2016

Growth prospects for the Airbus A380 are limited in several ways, both in terms of supplying flights (restricted by factors including regulatory and infrastructure limits) and demand for such large aircraft by airlines (curtailed by the growing next-generation twinjet market).

In this three-part series, AirwaysNews will cover: the future market forecasts for and service experience with the A380; the constraints on the aircraft; and its evolving and future passenger experience.

The A380 arrived shortly before an unprecedented liberalization in aviation regulations, and a significant increase in open skies treaties. These have both been a benefit and a detriment to the A380.

To my mind, there are three principal factors (which also affect the A380) limiting commercial aviation growth in an age of unprecedented bilateral open skies deregulation: limits to the number of flights; limits to the number of passengers, and capacity constraints at desirable airports.

The A380 offers relief to congested airports. Image: John Walton

The Airbus A380 offers relief to congested airports. Image: John Walton

Flight limits include both constraints on operating to new airports and limits to the number of overall flights an airline may operate. Interestingly, both are arguably a good thing for the A380. If an airline is restricted on the number of airports to which it can operate, it is likely to maximize its capacity to other airports in that country — not least to demonstrate that there is significant demand from citizens for its services. Emirates' increased A380 service into Germany highlights this factor. The number of overall flights is similarly beneficial for the A380's business case: if an airline can only operate a few services, and it believes there is sufficient demand, clearly having the largest passenger aircraft in production as an option is a plus.

Eleven-abreast economy hasn't yet been ordered by any A380 airline customers. Image: Airbus

Eleven-abreast economy hasn't yet been ordered by any A380 airline customers. Image: Airbus

Passenger number limits have been disappearing with the strong rise of open skies agreements and the move to focus instead on limiting service to particular airports. The cases in which they remain a significant constraint are often those in which there are large disparities in power between the two bilateral party countries, and those markets are rarely A380 candidates (and even more rarely for any airline but Emirates at this stage).

Airport regulators may be unknowingly suppressing A380 growth

Airport constraints are twofold: first, the availability of suitable landing slots, and second, the availability of facilities large enough to handle the A380. Both are often problems with airports built towards the middle of the 20th century. London Heathrow is perhaps the best example of the first, and New York JFK the best example of the second.

Space constraints are less of an issue in Dubai. Image: Emirates

Space constraints are less of an issue in Dubai. Image: Emirates

In terms of slot constraints, the continual UK political dithering about what to do for Britain's future aviation requirements means that British Airways in particular and other airlines more generally have significant uncertainty about their future fleet plans. A two-runway future Heathrow will require more A380s to meet demand than a three-runway future Heathrow (or some other solution, like bolstering provisions elsewhere around London and the UK), which would require more modern twinjets.

It's important to recognise that it's not just UK airlines that are constrained by Heathrow (and Sydney, and Hong Kong, and Haneda, and so on). Cathay Pacific, for example, operates five daily Boeing 777-300ER flights between Hong Kong and Heathrow, which are clearly ripe for consolidation. Singapore Airlines operates Boeing 777-300ERs alongside its A380s. These core trunk routes are what the A380 was built for, yet regulatory uncertainty means that the expensive investment in superjumbos and in superjumbo levels of ground provision are not secure enough.

And those ground provisions are difficult at older airports. New York JFK is a good example: it's both British Airways' flagship route and its very bread and butter, yet it doesn't fly its flagship aircraft. Terminal 7, originally built nearly 50 years ago, is neither sized for A380s nor easily expandable given the constraints of jetBlue's international terminal to the east and the JFK Expressway to the west. Similarly, there are relatively few A380-capable gates split between terminals 1 and 4 for the use of all other airlines at one of the world's major hubs.

Very Large Aircraft need very large departures facilities. Image: Perth Airport

Very Large Aircraft need very large departures facilities. Image: Perth Airport

There is an element of "if you build it, they will come" to the A380, but in the day and age where airlines are larger, and closer working between alliances and bilateral partnerships is a major trend, lacking A380 facilities is a problem.

These growth constraints naturally limit the market size of the aircraft. Yet in the context of A380s that are both significantly less dense (Singapore Airlines now operates a sub-400 passenger version) and more dense (Emirates' two-class configuration carries over 600 passengers) than the average, and with the rise of a next generation of twinjets, is there space in the market — and has the A380 performed well enough to make that space?

jwJohn Waltonan international journalist, specializes in cabin interiors, seating, connectivity, and premium class service. A keen analyst of how developing tools can be applied to aviation news, John is at the forefront of social media in the aviation sector, When not at the keyboard, John lives out of a suitcase, and adds languages to his "I speak this enough to get by while traveling" collection. John welcomes email from readers and industry insiders to john@walton.travel, and discussion on Twitter: he's @thatjohn.

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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

The post Airbus A380 (Part II): the Constraints on the World's Largest Aircraft appeared first on Airchive.

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