12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
The great and the good will gather in Toulouse on Tuesday for the unveiling of the Airbus A380. Or at least some of them.
How many passengers will it carry? The brochure says 550, but current thinking is that most airlines will go for 500 passengers or there about. The current average 747 now carries around 375 people, far less than the published 445 and a considerably smaller number than the 515 ANA has managed to squeeze in on Haneda to Osaka route. Stretch versions of the A380 could carry as many as 900 people.
Let”s start off by stating the obvious. The A380 will be a technical success, but whether it will perform from a financial point of view, for both backers and operators, is open to question. Is it to become a sort of flying Dome, a huge very expensive white elephant supported by the taxpayers of Europe, seen at airports around the world? The choice of Toulouse as its building point is even open to question. Surely Hamburg or even Bristol would have made for a better site, airports both with excellent sea access. The A380 is the sum of a massive number of components assembled from all over the world, some tiny, but some so huge that canal bridges have had to be re-built, roads constructed and buildings taken down at an unknown cost. The production line itself is on virgin farmland rapidly acquiesced across a (now disappeared) road from Blagnac airport. Do you think Jacques Chirac would have been so quick to attend if the roll-out had been at Filton?
Boeing should be kicking itself. It sat back too long with the 35 year old 747 and even the Dash 400 upgrade first flew as long ago as 1988. Some of course might argue that the 777 is a replacement. Why have four engines when two will do?
At the end of the day the A380 will succeed or fail due to passenger and then airline acceptance. The carriers of course have to make the first gamble. The cracks are already showing. As you can read further down this issue of ABTN the American freight operator UPS has ordered ten of the aircraft. What the Airbus press release did not show (but the UPS one did) was that it has cancelled 37 A300s, an aircraft long established on the Toulouse production line and clearly very profitable. This decision may well bring to a premature end the life of the original Airbus (which first flew in 1972). Virgin has put back delivery of its A380s ”for airport technical reasons” and we all wait with interest to learn what Air France and Lufthansa will do with their aircraft. With long haul access to Heathrow, world”s biggest international airport, denied, where will these aircraft fit into their systems. Presently they can hardly fill their Boeing 747s. Will there be some intense political lobbying from Brussels. Eddington, Bishop and Branson are already on guard! And what are the plans for Emirates who have 43 planes on order? Its home base Dubai has a population of 650,000 in total and even with 70, mainly offshore, hotels on the way, and with a massive infrastructure plan, the order might be considered an overkill. By comparison 4.5m people live in the much longer established Singapore. Lead customer SIA has ten aircraft on firm order.
Today there are 149 firm pledges for the A380. Airbus says it needs 250 to make a profit. At its roll out the 747 was up to 179 and this was followed by a spate of orders from lesser airlines. Airlines such as Aer Lingus, Nigeria Airways, Syrian Air and El Al ordered in small numbers a scenario unlikely to repeat itself. No commitments at all yet from US carriers, still 50% of the world”s air transport market.
China seems to be the get out for Airbus. In time it will need a massive number of aircraft once its huge population takes to the air. Whilst the first few planes will come from Toulouse, it does seem likely, just as with the MD 80 series in the past, final assembly will be in the People”s Republic. The roll out on Tuesday should be interesting.