June 9, 2015, c. Leeham Co. Cost improvements for the A380 will be limited for now to
increasing seating capacity, the president and chief executive office of Airbus told Leeham News and Comment in an interview today.
Aside from taking weight out of the airplane, which is already being done, Fabrice Bregier said Performance Improvement Packages (PIPs), such as aerodynamic improvements and adjustments to the wingtips, would wait until–or if–Airbus re-engines the airplane. And Bregier said Airbus is in no hurry to make a decision about this, despite pressure from the largest A380 customer, Emirates Airline, to launch the neo.
Bregier declined to offer a timeline for a decision whether to re-engine the A380–if it would be this year, next year or the year after that. The focus is on breaking even on production with the A380 this year, which Bregier says will be achieved.
The second priority is to convince new airlines to acquire the A380, he said. “We’re talking to some possible customers. I believe we will find a few. The third priority is to look for what the A380, let’s call it neo, might be, and well beyond 2020. This is where we stand. It’s not a priority. I believe we will do it, but we will do it in a timely manner.”
In the meantime, Airbus needs to reduce the seat-mile costs and improve the operating economics of the airplane. For now, adding seats is the answer, Bregier said.
“We can bring a lot through smarter layouts. As an example we now have a four class configuration on the A380, which is unbeatable. Our current economy class is similar to a premium economy,” he said. “It’s 19.5 inches (seat width). We can also offer 18 inches. We do not compromise on the comfort. We all believe at Airbus that you cannot fly very long distances with very, very small seats. We remain at 18 inches (for economy), but we now have a technical solution that works, which was not the case a few years ago.”
Bregier said there are small improvements to the airplane year-on-year with the engines. Other than weight reduction, Bregier said other aerodynamic improvements will wait “if and when” a re-engining.
“I don’t think it is necessary to do that now.” Airbus also increased the MTOW to allow very long missions, such as Dubai-Los Angeles.
Turkish Airlines say “no” to VLA but Airbus undeterred
The chief executive officer of Turkish Airlines, a target by Airbus for the A380, Boeing for the 747-8 and Malaysia Airlines to possibly lease two of its six A380s to Turkish as Malaysia downsizes, told Skywriter Aviation that he’s interested in frequency, not size in the Very Large Aircraft. With the opening of the new Istanbul Airport in 2017, the CEO sees relief of the capacity constraints that were driving the airline toward a possible order for one or the other VLA. The new airport makes this unnecessary, Skywriter reported.
Bregier is undeterred.
“I think they will need such an aircraft when they have the new airport,” he said. “Their business model is to create a big hub in Istanbul, similar to Dubai [the Emirates hub]. If this is their vision, the only way to achieve it is to attract passengers with the A380s. They would probably wait with that until the new airport is there.”
Middle of the Market airplane
Some airlines are calling for a replacement for the Boeing 757, but Boeing has largely redefined this as the Middle of the Market (MOM) aircraft. Air Lease Corp. believes Boeing has to do a new airplane, with an entry into service around 2023 or 2024, because the 737 MAX 9 is performing so poorly against the A321neo.
Bregier agrees with the latter statement (unsurprisingly), and considers the A321neo and A321LR the 757 replacement. He also calls it the MOM aircraft.
“I think [the MOM airplane] already exists in the A321neo,” Bregier says. “The market doesn’t need another airplane. If somebody is crazy enough to pour $10bn-plus dollars into a totally new airplane for a market of limited quantities, he can do it. I place my money somewhere else. This market exists, it is true, but the 321neo, I believe, brings an appropriate answer and is extremely competitive.
“More seriously, I don’t believe there will be a new game-changer in technologies before 2030.”
Bregier asks the question whether Boeing sticks with the MAX and adds another airplane. “This is not an easy question.” Does Boeing launch another airplane and a new development because it is weak in one segment?
“I don’t believe [the MOM] will go ahead,” he said. “I don’t believe you can invest in a new aircraft for a market which, all-in-all, is not that large.” To launch a new airplane requires a technological advantage. Bregier said a 787 fuselage (all composite) or an all-electric airplane (like the 787) is not such an advantage.