design upgrades

Jun 19, 2017

Airbus A380 ‘Plus’ adds seats or range, cuts flight costs

Airbus shows off an easier way to get more passengers per plane than by jamming their thigh bones together

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Winglets are the only external sign of the A380 Plus package

The enhancements contained in the Airbus A380 Plus study shown at the Paris Air Show overnight will add around 80 passengers or 300 nautical miles range to the capabilities of the world’s largest airliner.

But it is a claimed 13 percent reduction in operating costs compared to the current production A380 that will undoubtedly take the attention of airlines, and particularly so for those  flying routes to congested airports using limited landing slots and delay prone air corridors.

The most striking feature of the A380 Plus externally are the scimitar type winglets, which make the wing more efficient, while inside, a range of options arise for airlines depending on how they rearrange the internal stairs and other cabin ‘monuments’.

Some airlines might want to try an 11 abreast seating section in the main deck economy section, but it yields only an additional 23 seats in the guidance now available, and would be more than capable of discouraging at least that number of customers from ever flying that way again.

The good news on seating is however that there is no reduction in the actual width available to economy passengers in the ten across main deck seats on the A380. An A380 will never be as fiendishly tight in terms of hip space as an A330 configured nine across (instead of the usual eight across) or a 787  where most operators have unfortunately chosen a nine across configuration that Boeing never thought anyone would order back when the Dreamliners had shark fin tails and windows that looked like ocean liner cabin portholes. (Sigh!).

It’s immediately obvious looking into the A380 Plus that there is a whole matrix of possibilities for airlines to exploit, including improvements in premium cabins, and variations as to how economy capacity could be increased, or room provided for innovations in premium economy offerings.

The actual gains in capacity could vary considerably, where yield  or profit per sale might be the more important consideration than total numbers of passengers. The proposed enhancements show what can be done with a mature airframe like an A380 even without using new technology engine options or significantly changing wing design, as seen in the forthcoming Boeing 777-X series.

An important question remains unanswered. Will the ultimate ultra long range jet that could for example, fly Sydney or Melbourne non-stop against headwinds to London, be  something of the size and amenity of an A380 or a jet with far fewer seats and two engines? Both answers are possible, and might be known within less than ten years.

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24 thoughts on “Airbus A380 ‘Plus’ adds seats or range, cuts flight costs

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    The ultimate long range non stop between Sydney or Melbourne and London wont be an A380. A high fuel cost distance like that would only work with an A350 type plane with a large amount of premium seats. Add in the traffic congestion once you get to the Med and even more so around London, the flying time adds up. The numbers that fly between those 2 points AND will fly Qantas just arent there anymore. There are more people flying Sydney- Fiji, than Sydney London, yet maybe 25 years ago it was in the top 5.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz

    For those with long memories, Qantas 747s first went into service with 9 abreast seating, and changed to the 10 a bit later. The 10 across seating has had 17.5 in seats since forever and didnt seem to incapacitate the passengers as many complain with a 10 abreast 777 ( 17.1). get a ruler and see how much is 5mm or 0.2 inches.
    For those with wider behinds , premium economy beckons with 20 in seats ( Air NZ but only 19 on Qantas 747), probably much the same as first class in the 1960s narrow body era ?.

    1. NL

      For me, it’s not my behind, but my shoulders. 10 abreast on a 777 once, ended up next to someone of similar stature and spent the flight fighting to actually be able to sit back in my seat and not get scraped by anything coming down the aisle (which is narrower too). The day there are only 17″ seats is the day I stop flying.

    2. Mark Skinner

      Actually in real terms, Business class now is more comfortable than First in the early eighties, yet about the same real price now as Economy was then.

      That is, for the same rwal price as one paid in the 80s for Economy, one can get a better seat than First class passengers got then.

      At some point people either have to put up with the narrow seats or understand they can’t afford to fly.

  3. Deano DD

    May be a dumb ass question…
    Would an A380 make more money per deck from passengers or freight ?

    1. Ben Sandilands

      Deano DD,
      The word has always been that the A380 is unsuitable for heavy concentrated freight but has clear potential for light voluminous packages. Airbus abandoned plans to make a freighter version. Any future conversions of passenger A380s would need serious redesign for front end loading of heavy equipment, which is easier to do with older 747s.

      Since those glory days with the early 747s and eight across cabins in DC-10s we have grown wider, taller and heavier. Check out same age school year photos from your times and those of our children or relatives taken 40 years later.

      1. ghostwhowalksnz

        As I said the the Economy plus seems more than adequate for those larger customers. I bet the inflation adjusted costs of economy airfares 20 years were much higher as well than a economy plus seat today. The LCC carriers on long haul are coming and their prices wont have the passengers measuring the seat width.

      2. Deano DD

        Reason I asked was not about turning the A380 into a freighter
        More so to pose the question
        Why has Airbus never proposed a A380 version that totally did away with cargo and was a 3 deck passenger model

        Pros and Cons
        More windows and and more expensive fit-out
        Lower deck likely only 6 across

        Passengers are lighter than freight (per cubic meter)
        More spacious seating (see below)

        All well and good to make the lower deck seating, but how about the check in baggage
        Instead of 30″ pitch seating, simply go another 5 inches and store the bags partly under the seat and partly under your feet
        This in combination of raising the seat level 6″-8″ higher would allow passengers to sit their bags in an upright position with legs either side, or lay the bag flat and rest their feet on the bag
        Think of it like you are on a train or bus with a bag after a flight….
        Elimination of most check in staff and baggage handlers would also be a cost saving, although one would assume it would take longer to board and disembark the aircraft

        A majority of the belly of an A380 is passenger baggage with a smaller amount of freight along with crew rest areas, so the loss of freight revenue would be minimal, but the reduction of overall weight, combined with extra 200 or so seats surely would be a winner for the bottom line….

        A similar approach could be viable for frames like the 777

        1. Ben Sandilands

          Deanno DD,
          Aha. Now its a long time since a briefing on the design of emergency evacuation procedures that I’m going to rely on. But the reason no western passenger aircraft have ever been certified for under main cabin floor seating is the near certainty of massive fatalities in a crash landing or undercarriage failure. The lower structure of modern airliners is expected to be crushed between the tarmac and the main floor in crashes like that. There are a few videos ‘out there’ of drop tests of main fuselages during fatigue testing. Generally speaking the bottom of the plane ends up slammed up hard into the space under the main floor. Aircraft fuselages are of necessity thin and light, and while strong, there isn’t much material between a passenger and the impact zone under an airliner.

          1. Tango

            To add a bit in. All Bens annoying logic (grin) aside

            The A380 has barely enough space down below for Pax luggage, I well remember the early complains about, well this is fine but we need the longer aircraft!

            Not to mention you get to share space with the gear (thump, thud) and from mid wing back lots of engine noise.

            Cutting portholes in structure not designed for it requires a massive rebuild.

          2. Deano DD

            So when your plane falls out of the sky you land on a belly full of fluffy luggage and everyone walks away unharmed…
            I can not recall an incident, or accident, in recent times where this was the case, plenty of failed gear landings and tail scrapes, none of which would have caused casualties due to hull damage

            The lifting of the main deck a few inches would give plenty of headroom on the lower deck
            Yer I get the re-engineering bla bla….
            But I disagree about the noise issues
            Landing gear (aside from only operating twice per sector if all goes well) is only insulated to the main deck (noise wise) by some baggage and a thin floor
            Engine noise would be the same in a passenger belly as the main deck

            As for cutting windows in, this is more a weight issue than structural one

          3. Ben Sandilands

            Smarter people than me decided years ago that if you make jets the way we still do, you don’t don’t put people under the location of the main cabin floor down among the gear and internal workings surrounded by a very thin layer of metal or composites.

          4. Tango

            Yep, I consider myself a fair critic, I sure am not much of a designer.

  4. patrick kilby

    I suppose the question is whether the new wing tips can be retrofitted as they most probably would ease the dropping of 50 or so passengers DFW-SYD against the wind most days. My wife just paid $200 for a 3 across bed at the lounge on that flight. Very comfy indeed and cheaper than a PE upgrade.

  5. Ben Sandilands


    Your flights in the A380 must have been hell. Or imaginary.

    1. Tango

      Ben: Purely imaginary (delusional even)

      Last gasp of long distance international for me was Philippines trip back in the early 80s sometime (and that was a depressing trip to see Manila run to ruin and the poverty of what had been doing at least ok prior)

      Great flight back from Japan with a row of seats to myself in a 747.

      To this day I don’t take a drink of water from the tap without being grateful.

      Not sure what the head room in the bottom of a A380 is, pretty cramped in a MD-11.

      Is cargo even pressurized on an A380?

  6. Tango

    The underlying question is to me, not that you can add seat with good interior work and still maintain the ambient, how full are the flight now and do you just create a few more empty seats?

    I keep hearing the A380 will grow into its market, but it seems not to be true.

    Rather than 15 years early (that can keeps getting kicked down the runway) , it seems more like 50 years too late.

    There even looks to be rough weather ahead for the bit twins.

    Winners may be the 787/A330NEO and the A350-900.

  7. comet

    11-across? No thanks.

    I like to sit in the economy window seat. Yes, it’s two rows from the isle, but I enjoy the view and I can lean towards the wall.

    Leaning is important. It’s something you can do in a wide seat.

    It’s something you can’t do in a 9-across Boeing 787 Dreamliner (should that be ScreamLiner?) where the seats are so narrow you have to sit up straight. Even if you’re not fat, narrow seats are bad for this reason.

    Leaning is something you can’t do in the centre seat of an 11-across aircraft.

  8. Zipper

    You know once upon a time it took 6 months to get here from the UK by a leaky ship, many didn’t even finish the journey because of Malnutrition and disease, now people whinge they can’t handle a 22 hour flight because there seat isn’t wide enough! there’s also people in the world that can’t afford to eat never mind buy a plane ticket.. Man up ffs..

    1. Ben Sandilands

      What has that to do with airline managements f*cking up the amenity of flying by insisting on adding a handful of seats that would only be likely to be filled once the load factors get close to 95 percent.
      Has it occurred to you that if you screw the customer, and the competition doesn’t, you might lose them. I think telling people about what is being done, and reminding them of alternatives, is useful. No?

      1. Zipper

        Just putting things in perspective Ben, nobody has a gun to there head to buy an economy seat, and if you do choose to fly down the back then suck it up and expect a tight space for a number of hours, people from times gone past would be laughing there asses off at the moaning that goes on with modern day travel today compared to what they had to endure, so it is what it is, people will still buy these seats no matter how cramped they are..

        1. Ben Sandilands

          That’s fair enough. Nautical allusions take me back to a time as the last full time shipping cadet for the Sydney Morning Herald, at the close of the age of the great scheduled long distance ocean liners, when the only competitors to Q.A.N.T.A.S were P & Orient and the Matson Lines. Early trips to New Zealand were on the Wanganella, cheaper than an Electra flown by TEAL, and much roomier, but four or more days from memory, not all of them smooth, despite the ‘party scene’ for those of us doing Uni courses as well as being reporters or whatever we did in parallel. Quite how the economics of a cheap passage to Southampton, with unlimited meals and, er, amazing days and nights, worked out versus a Super Constellation continues to elude my grasp of time, motion and costs.
          I think the product decisions large brands make (and not just in air travel) have lost some contact with competitive realities that will bit hard at some stage. I’m not convinced that physically hurting the customer is a good thing, and unusable toilets, and even a shortage of passable facilities in higher priced cabins, reflect in my opinion, a reckless, if not callous lack of concern for anything but KPIs and bonuses.

          1. Dan Dair

            The people who can’t afford to eat are by definition, extremely unlikely to be able to afford a plane ticket, economy or otherwise.
            It’s completely irrelevant to the discussion.
            In fact, it’s a useless hyperthetical.

            “people from times gone past would be laughing there asses off at the moaning that goes on with modern day travel today”

            I’m not so sure.?
            I suspect that someone who travelled economy in the 1970’s would be overwhelmed by the amenities on modern aircraft such as the entertainment system,
            but dumbfounded by the size of the seats, lack of legroom & what passes for a meal in contemporary air travel.?

            Aircraft are much better, interiors are much better,
            generally-speaking seating arrangements for economy passengers are much, much worse.
            Also, I’m not convinced that most seating-format revisions are ever actually tested with real people, to FAA or EASA standards.?
            They keep cramming them in because the computer-modelling says it’s OK.!
            How reliable will those models be on a dark night when one of these sardine-tins has a nasty runway-incident.?
            Unfortunately, we’ll have to have one before we find out.

  9. Pete

    I think its a good move to show some energy into the A380 without having to commit a lot of forward resources. Good luck to Airbus.
    Its a great plane and I enjoy flying in it, even if the sales scorecard doesn’t reflect the passion for it.
    This move to extract another 5% by squeezing passengers is annoying – I hope they don’t do it with the A380 either.

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