Has the A380 worse economics than the 777-9 or A350-1000?

The operational costs of A380-800, A350-1000 and 777-9

After the comparison to the Boeing 777-300ER, we now fly the A380 against the newer Airbus A350-1000, which just entered service, and the 777-9, which will follow in two years.

We compare the aircraft on the same route as before, our 5,000nm London to Los Angeles route, Figure 1. It’s a typical trunk route where a major carrier could find the traffic to fill an A380.

Figure 1. A typical A380/777-300ER 5,000nm sector, London Heathrow to LAX. Source: ForeFlight.

As discussed in last week’s article we compare with our two-class normalized cabin. It has 15% lie-flat business seats at 60-inch pitch and 21-inch width and 85% economy seats at 32-inch pitch.

The A350-1000 then has 369 seats, of which 54 are in Business class. The 777-9 will have 410 seats with 60 in business class. The A380 holds 680 seats as before, of which 100 are business and 580 economy. The A380 is then equipped with all the latest cabin improvements Airbus has presented over the last year’s to make the cabin comfort level the same as the A350 and 777, Figure 2.

Figure 2. A380 cabin density improvements proposed by Airbus for new built A380. Source: Airbus.

The A350 is also the latest standard, with rear galleys with integrated lavatories and the 777-9 is using its improved 10 abreast economy with 17.4-inch seats.

Operational costs

With our Normalized rules (100kg pax+bag, 5% enroute reserve, 200nm diversion and 30 minutes circling) and an 80% load factor, we get the trip fuel burn for the A380 to 122.9t as before. The A350-1000 will consume 61,4t and the 777-9 66.4t. The A350 has half the fuel burn on the route to the A380 while the 777 take 46% less fuel.

On a seat-mile basis, the higher seat count of the A380 closes the gap to 8% lower fuel consumption for the A350 and 10.5% lower for the 777-9.

Crew costs turn the comparison to an advantage for the A380 on a seat-mile basis. The high cost of the flight crew for the mission is divided over 680 seats. The results are the A350-1000 has 31% lower crew costs for the mission at $40,900 compared with $59,700, but 26% higher crew cost per seat mile. The figures for the 777-9 is 26% lower mission costs at $44,300 with 23% higher seat-mile costs.

Mission maintenance costs are 46% lower for the A350-1000 at $11,800. The 777-9 has an estimated mission maintenance cost of $15,300. This is a cost based on Boeing’s predictions of a lower airframe maintenance cost for the Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer (CFRP) wing of the 777-9 versus the 777-300ER, with the rest of the aircraft having similar costs to the 777-300ER. The engine maintenance costs should be similar between the GE90-115 and the GE9X according to GE.

With the A380 mission maintenance costs at $22,000, it has 30% higher trip costs than the 777 and 46% higher than the A350. Once again, its seat count turns this to 15% advantage versus the 777-9. The seat mile cost is a draw with the A350-1000.

Navigation, Landing and Handling fees using our standard World Wide formulas shows a 29% lower cost for the A350 on a trip basis and 31% higher on the per-seat basis. The 777 lands at -24% and +26%. The fees are predominately based on Maximum certified Take-Off Weight (MTOW) with a non-linear relationship between weight and fee.  A larger and heavier aircraft has lower fees on a seat-mile basis.

The overall result for the Cash Operating Cost (COC) of the A350-1000 is 42% lower trip costs and 7% higher seat-mile costs. The 777-9 lands at 36% lower trip costs and 6% higher seat-mile costs.

At what seat count for the A380 is the result equal?

We have compared the A380 at a record high seat count of 680 seats. One wonders at what seat count the A380 would have the seat mile costs as the others?

It’s not as simple as just adjusting the seat count with the 6%-7% seat cost difference. At the lower seat count, the A380 consumes less fuel on our reference trip. Our performance model gives an equal seat mile COC at 640 seats for the A380.

The take away from the comparison is not these exact seat counts. A two-class cabin for such large widebody aircraft is not what is used today. It’s rather the relation between the seat counts which is important. As long as the A380 has 73% more seats than the A350-1000 and 56% more seats than the 777-9, it will hold its own regarding seat mile economics.

This is with the condition we talked about in the last article, that the aircraft can be filled to the same load factors.

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