It has been widely anticipated for a long time, but Emirates president Tim Clark has given an interview in which it is about as clearly stated as it could be that the giant global carrier wants an even better giant A380.
Late last year the Emirates message was that the engine technology upgrades that will provide much of the additional efficiencies for the forthcoming Boeing 777-X series (for which it indicated it would order 150) had to be applied to the A380, for which it has 47 in service and 93 on order or under commitment.
However it should also be made clear Airbus seems keen to please in its general commentary on the future of the A380, which entered service in 2007 with launch customer Singapore Airlines.
As the Wall Street Journal story confirms to those who have been following these matters, this is all about a very hi-tech engine offering from Rolls-Royce, which will substantially contribute to the cost of NEO or new engine option A380, just as engine making rival GE has been a massive participant in the current and X series Boeing 777s.
But one thing stands out in this interview through its absence. Emirates did not for once mention the obvious capacity of the A380 design to be stretched to offer many more seats within the performance capabilities of its overly generous wing.
The A380 was always intended to be stretched, hence the extraordinary size of its wing. However the word, since a media briefing in Toulouse early last June, has been that adding additional seats to the lower deck of the giant Airbus to make its also generously comfortable 10 across economy seating into 11 across economy seating might (read will) spare the European entity’s stakeholders money in terms of the investment needed to achieve some of the same outcomes.
(Airbus says the seats in the 11 abreast A380 will continue to be wide and comfortable but it does seem that bringing your elbows into this cabin could be a problem. The truth about new and current airliner design upgrades is that generosity and amenity is dead, the carriers have spoken, and you will get jammed into whatever the airlines choose to buy to the point where after a few hours you will drop into a coma.)
There is room for an interesting speculation that has already surfaced in some circles that the NEO A380 with 11 across main cabin seating will clear a space for a very high capacity giant twin engined double decker jet from Airbus for the middle of the next decade.
This is said to be intended to follow the 777-X by three or four years for its availability for carriers who would by then already be using terminal gates that efficiently handle 380s, 777-Xs and 747s. The operational target for this rumoured Airbus design would be services supporting 700 seats in two class formats but which would not require the endurance of 16 hours or more now flown by long range jets including the recently introduced 575 tonne version of the A380 that Emirates used to replace current version 777s between Dubai and Los Angeles.
Don’t expect to hear anything official about such a project straight away. Neither Airbus nor Boeing have the resources for more than one large all new jet at a time, but each company has a future vision into which their currently announced products fit into a bigger scheme of things that includes unannounced potential projects.
What an A380 NEO and a parallel 777-X tell us is that two high capacity airliner families are going to be around for quite some time, each leveraging new materials and engine technologies to the hilt, while the airlines stuff them to the proverbial ceilings with as many seats as can pass the emergency evacuation tests.