Last year was a bad year for airplane manufacturers, with numerous orders cancelled as the price of oil rose and the number of new travelers stalled. But if Sunday’s announcement from Airbus was any evidence, the French manufacturer thinks it can keep the future of flight aloft.
On the eve of the Paris Air Show, Airbus announced its intention to roll an Airbus A380plus, which will add 80 new seats to what is already the largest passenger airplane ever made. The new design also features adjustments to the wings for maximum fuel efficiency and other modifications to maximize the enormous jet’s potential.
The original A380 made its first commercial flight in 2007. The plane — the biggest ever built for non-military flight — can service as many as 853 passengers on a single trip. The planes have 40 percent more usable floorspace than the world’s second largest plane, the Boeing 747. And they go far: Over 8,500 nautical miles to be exact, which is enough to take you from Dallas to Sydney or Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand.
But the A380 hasn’t exactly flown off the shelves. Emirates airline has been the single biggest purchaser of the original A380, but the airline has seen numerous struggles, mainly due to the geopolitical situation in the Gulf and the recent collapse of the price of oil. And other airlines have struggled to find a pragmatic use for the opulent super jet, which has a grand staircase reminiscent of air travel’s 1960s heyday.
It’s this economic pressure that has led Airbus to announce the revamped A380plus. The new plane comes with wings that would reportedly reduce drag and, crucially, cut down on fuel costs by about 4 percent. While that might sound small, it matters in an industry that’s currently counting every penny, and it could make the A380 more competitive with other, less expensive jetliners. So, too, would reducing the amount of maintenance the plane requires, something Airbus promises the A380 can deliver.
The plane would also allow for either more passengers or more distance, Airbus says. The A380plus has the room for 80 new seats, which would cut the cost of travel for all travelers. Or it could travel an additional 300 nautical miles, which might allow Airbus to take passengers on the longest flight in the world, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Doha, Qatar, a trip currently flown only by the Boeing 777.
That doesn’t mean it’s an entirely easy sell. Test flights will have to prove that the plane meets the new specs it promises. And many are skeptical of the idea that Airbus could add 80 seats without compromising passenger comfort, something the Airbus A380 has prioritized above most other concerns.