Today’s order of another 32 Airbus A380s by Emirates is about as many of the giant jets as it would need to operate all of its current or approved flights between Australia and New Zealand and its Dubai hub.

Or put another way, when Emirates has 90 A380s in service, for argument’s sake, by 2020, one third of them could be used in this market. Compared to the 20 A380s minimum that Qantas will be flying, or somewhere in excess of 15 which could by then be deployed by Singapore Airlines on its Australia-Europe services.

A Qantas A380 at Sydney, but will it be outnumbered by Emirates by 2020, photo by James Morgan
A Qantas A380 at Sydney, but will it be outnumbered by Emirates by 2020? photo by James Morgan

It takes three A380s to service a daily frequency to London from any Australian city. In the case of Emirates, a doubling of traffic but a constant market share between carriers in the next ten years would require it to use the A380s for all of its major frequencies.

That would be thrice daily from Sydney and Melbourne each, double daily from Brisbane, and as it has the rights, a daily from Adelaide and of course a daily from Perth.

That is about 27 high utilisation A380s, plus three spares for maintenance rotation.

Looking at Singapore Airlines’ highest usage of 747s and A380s from Australia to date, we could expect in a doubling of demand but constant market shares, at least double daily A380s from each of Sydney and Melbourne, and dailies from Brisbane and Perth.

Of course market share between the carriers will not be constant. If recent years are any guide, Qantas will shrink and Emirates and Singapore Airlines will grow, although Jetstar A380s cannot be excluded from the possibilities. And by 2020, Singapore Airlines and Emirates will be trading fully depreciated or well used A380s from the early deliveries for newer more efficient A380s, just as Qantas and other 747 operators churned their early classic jumbos for newer more efficient versions of the same line.

A lot of conventional wisdom says this cannot happen. But it was conventional wisdom in the early 60s that the 48 seat Vickers Viscounts of TAA, and the Douglas DC-6Bs of Ansett-ANA, were as large as airliners would be in Australia.

Even in the mid 80s, it was established wisdom that Sydney Airport wouldn’t grow much beyond 9-10 million passengers a year, compared to circa 30 million a year today. The idea that Qantas Cityflyer jets with over 250 seats might fly every 15 minutes between the major east coast capitals in peak hours would have been absurd.

There are of course, all sorts of factors, some of them very obvious, like fuel, and emissions, that suggest the future may be very different and non-geometric when it comes to growth, contraction, or the consequences of 1.3 billion people in China taking their place in the sun, if they can see the sun.

Which is why as a corollary of the Emirates ambitions, and similar projections, the race for non fossil-carbon releasing fuels, and drastic reductions in fuel burn, to as little as one third the levels of today as NASA studies recently discussed, is so intense in aerospace companies.

While the political engineering of solutions to fossil carbon emissions stutters, there is behind the latent demand for air transport, a realisation that more of the ‘same’ isn’t going to work. It has to be more of something that puts coal and oil out of business. For fuelling jets, ships and power stations. Or else.

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