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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8 thoughts on “Is a 436 seat A330-300 really a very large jet or VLA?

  1. Deano DD

    Ben you can’t blame the aircraft manufacturers for the density of passengers
    For example, the 787 was given the name Dreamliner because of the higher pressurization and the larger than average seats that were supposed to be fitted, offset by the fuel savings

    LCCs quickly worked out there was the ability to cram more seats in and stay below the MTOW
    Legacy carriers followed because they needed to survive
    Passengers were unhappy with the lack of space but kept going back to save money
    To this point, not enough people have voted with their feet, so the statuesque will continue, regardless of what is said here or on other forums
    Until such time as one airline steps up and offers comfort, for what would now be called a niche market, and succeeds spectacularly, nothing is going to change

    We do however have options, pay for premium economy or business class if it a big issue

    1. Zarathrusta

      Agreed DD but the A350 does seem to have made the right call in designing for 3-3-3 in the first place – even though I much prefer a 2-4-2 configuration and making 3-3-3 economic enough that few carriers have been tempted to go to a 3-4-3 configuration. Also I’m not sure the width really lends itself to 3-4-3.

      If they want to fit more people in, I’d me much happier with hanging columns of hammocks myself.

    2. Jacob HSR

      I really want to know how long business class seats were before 1999 and thus before fully flat beds.

      The British firm tangerine invented the 180 degree bed for business class:

      tangerine. net/our-work/aircraft-interior-design-british-airways-club-world/

      Their video says they made the isles narrower to allow seats to get bigger.

  2. john grier

    some U.S. airlines have 380 seats in a Boeing 777-200er in all economy configuration & the seating is not even 10 across, but, rather 9 across(2-5-2) not (3-3-3). The advantage of 2-5-2 seating over 3-3-3 seating is approx 90% of seats are either aisle or 1 seat from aisle(only the middle seat is 2 seats from aisle, whereas in 3-3-3 seating, 2 seats are 2 from aisle)

    1. Zarathrusta

      It makes you wonder why they use 3-3-3 at all.

      1. comet

        I book in a 3-3-3 aircraft whenever I fly with three people.

      2. Arcanum

        I recall reading some time ago (I think back when UA was reconfiguring their 777s) that IFE control boxes supply 3 seats. A 2-5-2 layout thus requires 4 boxes, while a 3-3-3 layout only needs 3. I think there were also logistical advantages to having all Y seats supplied in identical blocks of 3 rather than needing 2-seat and 5-seat units. I’m not sure if those reasons still hold or not.

  3. Tango

    Well this is the era of BS and spin.
    Airbus declare the A330 a VLA with dense packing like Chickens and a 777 is not according to Boeing.

    I am not sure who is worse, Airbus or Boeing with the lies. A BS call on both of them.

    The new category is VPA ™ (Very Packed Aircraft!) (tm: you can use this but give credit to the Author!)

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