Friday, January 21, 2005

The A380 : Revolutionary?

A friend recently asked me if I thought the A380 was a revolutionary aircraft. Here is my response.

When I think of planes that revolutionized air travel I think of the Comet ( first jet airliner), 707 (first jet airliner that didnt crash every week), 747 (first jet airliner that didnt crash every week AND could carry lots of people and really brought air travel to the masses) and the Concorde (which transferred high altitude supersonic flight from the once exclusive realm of air force test pilots to the equally exclusive (probably also despised) realm of fat overpaid investment bankers and celebs)

Each of those planes in their own way did make a big difference to air travel as they were unlike any of their predecessors and did change the face of commercial aviation.

The 380 is no doubt a step forward but it is not revolutionary. The 380 brings several improvements in technology like new and lighter materials, more efficient and quieter engines, advanced cockpit, easier to maintain etc etc but its not a giant step forward.

The media and some airline bosses have been talking about gyms, casinos, fast food restaurants, showers, shops etc etc. Wind back to the time the 747 was launched and you will find exacty the same headlines. How many 747s today have the above features?? There is only one person in the world who has control over these sort of things and that is the airline accountant. Its as many bums on as many seats as possible that brings in the money and not showers and shops.

However I am sure that some airlines will use the extra space to introduce some of the above on the 380 purely to act as a product differentiator in the market place. I am sure that people like Branson will do something different especially because he already has bars on his 747s.

Unfortunately I think that most of the new features that may appear will be for first and business passengers only and the masses will continue to suffer for long hours in small seats.

This plane does not bring the two things that I want to see in future airliners : Speed (we are stilll flying at about the same speed as the early passenger jets) and Comfort for economy passengers (this is up to airlines and not the manufacturers so cant blame boeing or airbus). Internal seat config is decided by airlines alone.

The big airlines will use it to replace their ageing 747-400 fleets with revamped first/business sections with perhaps few unique interior features like bars, small duty free shop etc. However for economy passengers (kindly referred to as self loading freight in the industry) there wont be a big difference.

I have to mention the 747SR. Some airlines (especially Japs) have very high demand on short haul routes so they use use modified 747s for routes normally flown by smaller planes. Therefore Boeing built a very high capacity single class variant of the 747 purely for short haul routes.

There will be A380 variants and a similar high capacity version with close to 950 all economy seats is a possibility.

A final note about Indian airports. I dont remember reading anything about Indian airports gearing up for it. If anyone knows otherwise then do let me know. However Emirates are ordering close to 40 380s and flights to India will certainly be on the top of their list along with other asian 380 customers. Therefore I assume and hope that Indian airports are already doing something about this.

I would appreciate your comments on my first ever blog : thoughts / criticisms / pure hatred / love / etc etc are all equally welcome :)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The A380 is a gimmick. Not too much to say except that if I wanted luxury I would rather spend it on staying at the Waldorf Astoria than on a tin can.

India is gearing up to meet the challenges of housing such a monster. In a press release by the AAI, they had proposed building 3 extra gates which would be completed by the end of 2005.

Lets drink to that!! Does anyone like Blackthorns cider?

2:23 PM  
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