airliner designs

Jun 28, 2017

What Malaysia Airlines really thinks about its Airbus A380s

Is Malaysia Airlines right about the future strength of Airbus A380s in high volume air transport?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

An airliner so big the wing doesn’t fit into the photo

The fate of Malaysia Airlines’ six Airbus A380s has been the focus of much criticism of the giant airliner, but what does it really think about the type’s future?

Runway Girl Network has scored an interview on that topic from the Malaysia carrier’s new CEO Peter Bellew while he was at large at the recent Paris Air Show which might surprise the pro and anti A380 camps, and stir up parallel debates as to how renewable fuel developments will affect airline operations in general.

To go to fuel first, because it is part of a set of issues that make the fate of any particular airliner seem trivial, Bellew thinks renewables will prove so successful that they will have the surprising consequence of keeping conventional aviation fuel very cheap for a long time and give airlines a long holiday from the ruinous prices that threatened their operations early this century.

Bellew says “My own personal opinion is that renewable energy is really at a huge inflection point right soon, round about 2019-2020. You’ll see the proliferation of renewable energy, autonomous cars, electric-powered cars. I think demand will level off for oil, and I think that maybe the next decade will be the golden decade for airlines. I think you could see the oil price levelling off at 30, 35 dollars per barrel for ten years, because the renewables are going to be an unstoppable force.”

His comments about the A380 design in its own right do of course reflect Malaysia Airlines’ interest in seeing their being put into a charter and lease arm of the carrier succeed. Which apparently has been the case even before they are withdrawn from its scheduled network next year.

He says “I don’t think anybody has used the aircraft properly. I think this nonsense of showers and apartments and snooker tables and bars is not what they were meant for. I think they were meant for moving 650-700 people 8-11 hours, and I think we’ve proved the case for that with this charter arm, and I think other people then will probably copy it in years to come, or scheduled airlines will get faith in it again.”

Which, come to think of it, seems to be borne out by Emirates enthusiasm on at least some routes for a reconfiguration of its A380s to a 615 passenger business and economy class format, but which does keep the bar set up for premium fare payers, and doesn’t use any reduced space seat sizes for the main cabins.

Let’s hope this example makes some users of high density economy in smaller jets like the 787 family reconsider their strategies, and put a bit of comfort back into ‘cheap.’


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22 thoughts on “What Malaysia Airlines really thinks about its Airbus A380s

  1. derrida derider

    A bit OT, but the point about the prospect of cheap aviation fuel as a result of renewables slashing other demand for oil is a good one.
    I cannot understand how off track debate about renewables in Australia has been lately. Even if the delusionists were right that AGW was a giant conspiracy by research “scientists” in the pay of a One World UN government that would have no effect on the economic realities of the next twenty years. Look what is going to happen to the land transport and energy sectors in the next decade or so. Simply, ultracheap and ultraefficient batteries means that new renewable electricity generators and grids are already cheaper than fossil-fuel based ones in most of the world, and they will be far more so by 2030. And most land transport will be powered by that generated electricity. That is an economic reality regardless of Paris agreements, carbon taxes or whatever.

    1. Dan Dair

      I’ve been saying for ages, that the sensible & forward-thinking nations are the ones who back the introduction of renewables & use that backing to create a platform for home-grown businesses to manufacture & supply cutting-edge renewable products to the rest of the world.

      Sadly, it looks like it’s China in the lead with Germany a distant second.?
      The USA appears to have actually dropped-out of that race……. the slackers, I blame LSD.!
      (Quote from ‘Back to the Future’….. the ‘slackers’ bit, not the LSD.!)

      1. Zarathrusta

        The terrible shame about this is we were way ahead technologically and could have been a world leader morally, and have created a great export industry.

  2. Roger Clifton

    What does he mean by “renewable energy”? If his scenario is to make any economic sense, the term would have to include “mass-produced nuclear”. On the other hand, perhaps that is exactly what he does mean. Perhaps he should say so!

    1. Dan Dair

      Feel free to explain why ‘the term would HAVE to include “mass-produced nuclear”’.?
      Sufficient amounts of solar, wind & wave power, together with advances in reducing losses in transmission AND real improvement in battery/storage capacity, would probably negate nuclear generation.?

      IMO I’m not dead-set against nuclear, but it frightens me because of the mess it makes (one way or another) when it goes wrong.
      But what really does exercise me is the fact that the decommissioning & clean-up costs are never included in the cost-benefit analysis or the consumer price of generation of electricity.?

      England is currently decommissioning Sellafield/Seascale/Windscale (& anyone else who knows me….), which is going to take decades & cost £billions.
      I’m reasonably sure that if they’d known how much it was going to cost to turn it off at the end of its useful-life, they’d have never spent the money building it in the first place.?

      1. Roger Clifton

        Okay, the question is, why is mass-produced nuclear the only “sustainable energy” that can replace fossil jet fuel? Let the arithmetic explain why.

        Currently the world burns ~5.4 Mbbl/d of jet fuel, about 370 GW of chemical energy flow. Refineries converting recycled CO2 back into jet fuel would require a multiple of that, say 1000 GW, baseload. Baseload from wind would require storage, about 1000 GW-weeks in this case, topped up by ~3000 GW of wind turbines, that’s about a million of them. So wind is ridiculous, and solar is sillier.

        The world’s existing 360 GW of nukes provides baseload electricity as a matter of course. Current designs provide US$100/MWh, but we need mass-production to drive that down further.

    2. Dan Dair

      When I read those statements from Peter Bellew, I assumed he was mainly referring to bio-fuels when he was talking about renewables.?
      (One statement, two interpretations……?)

    3. Zarathrusta

      Nuclear proponents almost never include the carbon cost of extracting the Uranium, processing it (vapourising one of nature’s heaviest atoms) and the ongoing cost of storing the nuclear waste.

      When Thatcher privatised everything, noone would touch nuclear. There was a reason. And even if someone private ran a nuclear generator, they’d organise to go bankrupt at end of life and make the taxpayer pay for the decommissioning and clean-up.

      1. Roger Clifton


        Anti-nuclear antagonists almost never do the arithmetic to back their insults. The current price of uranium metal is US$20 per pound, and that is after the miner has paid for all the diesel fuel used on the minesite. Even in the old PWR reactors, that would provide five kilowatt-years of power. That’s 0.045 cents per kWh, much less than 1% of your power bill.

        The British cleanup after their (terrible) old practices still only amounted to 2p per kWh sold. Modern practice is to put used fuel in a dry container, parked out the back indefinitely. Future practice would be to recycle used fuel back into “fast” reactors, that is, if the fearful would only do their arithmetic before protesting.

        Reading between the lines in the article, we hear a captain of industry gloating that the rise in electric vehicles is driving consumption towards coal and gas, leaving a glut of oil for his industry to consume. Believers of windmills should recognise that the majority of the time the windmills are underperforming, backed up with coal or gas – if they would only do their arithmetic. If electric vehicles and fuel industries are to run on sustainable power, it must be baseload, which only nuclear can deliver. The only “green” miracles that Bellew should claim for for aviation would be sustainable fuel, independent of coal, oil or gas.

        However, while you guys fail to do your arithmetic, this guy can strut around like Elon Musk, claiming to virtue but not to substance.

        1. Roger Clifton

          Correction (kg, not lb): current price of uranium metal is $40/kg, providing 5 kW-a/kg at 0.09 cents per kWh, still less than 1% of retail price.

          1. Tango


            Free energy types almost never include the cost to extract the material form the ground, the energy intensive process needed to make them and all the fossil fuel that goes into them before you get free energy.

            What do you do with a dead Li I battery?

            LA can be recycled at least.

  3. Redgum

    More passengers on intermediate length flights seems simple commn sense for these aircraft-perhaps the 747 should have been used the same way instead of being run down.

  4. Dan Dair

    I simply don’t get the problem with the A380 being too big……..?
    Carriers used to ‘bump’ people all the time on heavy-traffic routes when they were flying B747’s.
    Now airlines are flying less ‘747’s & more ‘380’s & the complaint seems to be the aircraft is too big,
    BUT the seat per Km is less
    AND the break-even percentage is lower,
    so an A380 can fly with proportionately more seats empty & still make a better profit than a B747,
    but when they sell the aircraft out, the ‘380 makes a great big bucket-load more money than a ‘747.
    Actually where is the problem.???

    (& don’t tell me there aren’t the routes out there to support it….
    that’s only because the prices charged are more than most are prepared to pay)

    1. Zarathrusta

      sadly thing change but most people’s thinking doesn’t!

      1. Tango

        DAn: You miss the much higher cost to make and A380

        It needs to be very full to get the economics out of it .

        Back in the day I never saw a full 747.

  5. George Glass

    Good grief.Any of you people ever operated an aircraft? Let alone at a profit. Meanwhile South Australia surpasses Denmark as having the most expensive energy in the world because of its nut job policies. We are a lazy,too wealth ,complacent country that thinks hoping is a policy.Bad things are coming.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      The renewable sector, and breakthroughs in storage technology, are destroying the viability of fossil carbon releasing energy sources. By cost of production, renewal and distribution. Short of a return to socialism and state intervention to suppress change, it’s being destroyed by people who aren’t sitting around moaning.

      1. Mark Skinner

        Have to agree George. Privatizing SA’s power sector meant that private companies let the power stations fall to pieces while they charged as much as they could. Then they just walked away when the power stations reached the end of their actual life.

        Privatisation of SA’s power system was ideological madness.

        The only bright spot, and the only reason SA has evena slim hope of keeping the lights on this Summer coming is because it has renewables. Had there been no investment in renewables, there simply would not be enough generation capacity in the State. It’s that simple.

        The only action to provide further supply has come from the State Government promising to spend $500m to provide gas generation. However, even that is in danger because of the nut job policies of leaving Australia’s gas supplies to the markets. As you say, nutters thinking that hoping is policy. Then there’s the Federal government which thinks that a Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme taking 7 years to finish is going to help! As you say, have any of them run anything for profit?

        Looks like the market has failed. Except for renewables, SA’s reliance on the private sector and the market is a triumph of ideological stupidity over common sense.

  6. Zipper

    Dan Dair.. China taking the lead??? In what? Climate change? Is that a joke? You do realise the Chinese are getting new coal fire power stations every week! You have to wear gas masks on some days over there the smog is that bad, yeh Dan world leaders they are

    1. Ben Sandilands

      Ironically, that is why the PRC appears in many papers, scientific or in higher order general media like the Financial Times, as a leader in renewables including the sub-heads of nuclear, solar and wind.
      It’s apparently aware that if it continues along the old energy path it will cause so much political and social unrest that centralised power will be severely challenged. Yet it continues to keep a population of more than one billion people with growing energy demands functioning by shorter term renewals and expansions of older fossil carbon releasing technology. Which is energy pragmatism on an astonishing scale. If the China reading is correct, renewable growth at the rooftops is for example seen as making new coal fired plants more capable of meeting some daunting forecasts for additional energy needs.

      1. Tango

        China is rapidly switching from coal to natural gas.

        They are putting coal mines out of commission as its not needed.

        While belatedly, they are realizing the price they paid to go fast.

        US is the same. Funny part is Trump can blow all he wants, coal is not coming back. Plenty of natural gas, cleaner, less cost and you don’t have that slag shit to put in a pond someplace with all the heavy metals.

    2. Dan Dair

      My young friend,
      China is at the forefront of the manufacturing of industrial & domestic solar PV units as well as having a huge slice of the solar hot-water production.

      Much of what they manufacture wasn’t designed there, but economies of scale mean that thousands of jobs have been created by this technology & most of them have been in China.
      Australia could have a part to play in this world market, but that would involve the government helping to fund the set-up costs of a business which wanted to design the next generation (pun intended) of solar-power units AND equally importantly manufacture them in Australia.
      It’s a developing market & until we get to the stage where more or less every building has some kind of solar-generation equipment on it, it’s a market which will continue to expand. (albeit, not necessarily with the kind of panels we currently see.? Maybe the next generation will be coatings on shingles, tiles or slates, for example.?)

      As Tango points out, China’s ‘government’ is waking-up to the ‘new-reality’ of wealthy & powerful businessmen who’ve travelled abroad & seen how beautiful the landscape of a developed country can be & how pleasant the air in a modern city can be
      and they want things to be like that in their homes too.!

      60 years ago the smog was ‘that bad’ in London, but they did something about it.
      Why are you so certain that China isn’t already doing something about it.?
      Like the much bigger picture of worldwide climate-change, changing the ‘climate’ around a few cities doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a decade or more, possibly even a generation.?
      And China now has the will along with the resources to make those changes.

      What is Australia doing to combat climate-change….
      AFAIK, Brisbane airport hasn’t even submitted plans yet for it’s future sea-wall, to retain the asset for longer, when sea-levels start to rise.?

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