very large jets

Jul 27, 2017

Is a 436 seat A330-300 really a very large jet or VLA?

Who would have thought that an A330 could become a plane that would displace demand for A380s?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

You can almost hear the screams from the outside of this 436 seat Airbus A330-300

Boeing has dropped A380 sized jet from its commercial outlooks, and Airbus is widely being reported as pinning its future to an immediate order for 20 more from Emirates, who will have around 100 of the biggest commercial passenger airliner in service by the end of this year.

While the accuracy of the what appears to be an ultimatum to Emirates remains questionable, or at least, lacking in nuance, Leeham News has given prominence to a very interesting take on the future of very large jet or VLAs issued by the Japan Aircraft Development Corporation or JADC. The link to page two goes to the essential content, while the first link given above will get overwritten in time.

Note, this is the work of Leeham, not Plane Talking, which is drawing attention to it because it is analysis readers might need to take on board if they interested in the future of an airliner which is exceptionally well supported in the Australian market place by the ME3, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, except that the latter two need more of them.

Singapore Airlines has too few A380s to provide reliable year around flights on the Airbus flagship from Melbourne and even Sydney at times, while Qantas which says their interiors will be mercifully upgraded in coming years has too few to cope with any reasonable projection for demand in the medium term. (For which overstuffed 787s will be manifestly inadequate.)

A key point in the JADC forecast for demand over the next 20 years is that it sees a need in that interval for more than 600 VLAs, which it defines as airlines offering more than 400 seats.

But by that defiition, that means 436 seat all economy A330-300s like those operated by Cebu Pacific (or Cebu Air, the company appears to be happy with various forms of branding), or 456 multi class Air Canada 777-300ERs which bring new definitions for fart sharing or compact communiality to 15 hours flights to a jet that Singapore Airlines, to its immense credit, has at times configured with less than 300 seats, and which Virgin Australia has similarly rendered supremely comfortable in all classes on its US flights.

As Scott Hamilton noted in his analysis:

For decades, the Boeing 747 and later the Airbus A380 have been associated as “Very Large Aircraft.” Boeing steadily reduced its forecast of the VLA category while Airbus largely kept its forecast between 1,200 and 1,700, depending on the year.

Boeing eliminated the VLA category this year from its Current Market Outlook. Airbus retains the category. In a surprise, Airbus told me at the Paris Air Show that its VLA forecast is not limited to the 747 and A380 but includes any aircraft delivered with more than 400 seats. Airbus cited as an example the A330-300 delivered to Cebu Pacific with 436 seats. It would also include the Boeing 777-300ERs delivered to Air Canada with 456 seats, an example not cited by Airbus but which qualifies under this definition.

The 777-9, nominally at 407-425 seats in three-class configuration, would be a VLA under the previous Boeing definition but for reasons that defy logic, Boeing refused to so categorize the 777-9, instead lumping it in with the Large Twin-Engine transport sector.

Maybe after digesting Mr Hamilton’s wise words we need an additional category, HVLA, for humane very large aircraft, which at present is the exclusive domain of A380s, although Airbus had at times circulated quite specific hints about a possible A350 stretch which might just cross the 400 passenger seat line without passengers risking acute renal and hip and knee bone failures on longer flights.

Or maybe, more realistically, a VULJA category, similar to ‘vulgar’ category for Very Uncomfortable Large Jet Aircraft.

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