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Airline Mismanagement

Anything as revolutionary as the A380 is (and 747 was) inevitably attracts a lot of naysayers.

But with six A380s now in service, and more being added almost monthly, the reality of the plane both exceeds expectations and effectively rebuts all earlier criticism.

 
 
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The Airbus A380 Super Jumbo Part 3

The eventual reality exceeds expectations
 

Airy spacious cabins, larger windows, and a quiet ride are the most obvious passenger benefits to the new A380.

Part 3 of a four part series on the Airbus A380 - please also visit

1.  Airbus A380 antecedents

2.  Differing plans for a 747 successor

3.  A380 completion, configuration, and controversy

4.  Inside an Emirates A380

 

 

 

Dispassionate observers were surprised at the level of vociferous negativism associated with the A380's design and development.  Fortunately, none of the criticisms have been shown to be fair, and the plane redeems itself in every respect - for airlines, as a fuel efficient way of transporting larger numbers of passengers in a single movement, and for passengers, as a more comfortable and relaxing way of traveling.

With 17 customers, 202 orders, and a growing number of planes now 'in the air' and earning positive reviews, the future success of the A380 seems increasingly assured.

Indeed, not content to rest on their laurels, Airbus is already moving forward with an even larger A380, being 21' longer and capable of holding about 100 extra passengers.
 

Controversy over the A380

The A380 has attracted a great deal of criticism and controversy, most of it sadly ill-informed.

A380 is very fuel efficient

Some environmentalists, who are opposed for unclear and not always valid reasons to any and all aviation, attacked the A380 purely because it may encourage more people to travel.  The flip side of this complaint however underscores its weakness - the reason more people would be encouraged to travel is because of the greater efficiencies and lower operating costs of the A380, and in particular its improved fuel economy, which allows for something in the order of 80 or more passenger miles per gallon of jet fuel burned.  For one or two people (or even three) traveling together, they'll use less fuel traveling by A380 than driving their personal car.

A380 is very quiet

It is also interesting to note that although the A380 is a huge plane with very powerful engines, it is also a much quieter aircraft than the 747, not only inside the passenger cabin, but for people outside as well.  The reduced noise 'pollution' from the A380 - it is only half as loud as a 747 when taking off and landing - is certainly something that should be welcomed by people living/working close to airports.

Is there a need for the A380

Perhaps the most ridiculous negative attacks have been from industry observers saying that there is no need for this type of plane.  Airbus had sold 189 of the planes before the first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines on 15 October 2007, and currently (Aug 2008) has sold 202 A380s, an achievement which one would think effectively rebuts this claim.  Indeed, one of the loudest critics of the A380 - Boeing - has now reversed its own position by developing a larger version of its 747 to try and compete with the A380, at least in some parts of the very large plane market.

Would the A380 overload airports

One of the more persistent and ill-founded lines of criticism has been that the plane is 'too big' and that airports won't have the infrastructure to handle such a huge group of passengers all arriving or departing at the same time.

This is wrong in two main ways.

Firstly, the A380s delivered to date have between 450 and 490 seats on them.  This is only 50 - 100 more seats than on a 747-400 (which typically has up to 416 seats in a three class configuration), and unless the plane is full, means less than 50 - 100 more passengers.

This is not a huge number of extra passengers.  Surely any airport that can handle a 416 passenger flight can handle a 490 passenger flight without any significant problem.

Secondly, any airport that the A380 is likely to fly to is, by definition, a major hub airport, and it is designed not just for one flight at a time, but for tens or even hundreds of flights all to be processed through the airport simultaneously.  Consider an airport that has 30 planes arriving every hour at present, with perhaps an average of 250 passengers per flight, and let's say this airport now changes three of those arriving flights from 747s to A380s.

This means the airport, already having 7500 passengers an hour to process, now has to handle an extra 250 or so passengers - a 3% increase in numbers.  That is a trivial rather than an important change, and any major airport should be able to handle this with no problems at all.

Lastly, in response to this concern, look at the airports that are already handling the A380.  London, Sydney, Singapore, JFK, Dubai, and soon to be Los Angeles and Melbourne too.  Are they having problems with managing the A380?  No, not at all.

Are the planes 'too big' for passenger comfort

Some people, who have never seen an A380, delight in saying 'I'd refuse to fly on a plane with 550 other people.  It would be way too cramped and crowded for me.'

This statement too reveals a misunderstanding of the A380.  Although it can indeed carry a lot of people (but no A380s yet carry more than 490 seats) there is an even larger increase in space.  In terms of square feet of space per passenger, you have much greater space on an A380 than you do on other planes.

Because there are two floors inside the plane, you're never confronted with all your fellow passengers, and with the cabin divided into sections, you never have a huge expanse of people crowding in on you.

And when it comes to boarding and departing an A380, if you're at an airport with the three jetways the A380 recommends, you're averaging about 160 passengers per each of the three jetways.  That should make getting off the plane faster than even getting off a small 737 (with more than 160 passengers and one jetway) and profoundly better than just about every other plane, which only very rarely has more than one jetway in service.

In actual fact, in terms of traveling with a large group of fellow travelers, you're less aware of doing this on an A380 than any other medium or large sized plane.

How about A380 safety

There's another group of gloomy opponents of the A380 who mutter darkly about 'just imagine the disaster when one of these crashes and we have 500+ fatalities'.  Even this comment can be rebutted - a bigger plane doesn't mean more overall deaths - the extra deaths if a plane does crash are balanced by fewer flights to carry the same number of people, and so the average expected level of fatalities stays the same.

Oh - and do remember that air travel remains the safest method of transportation known to mankind, and also remember the not commonly appreciated fact that most airplane crashes do not result in appreciable fatalities.

The A380 and Airports

The good news is that an A380, as big and heavy as it is, doesn't need any extra runway to take-off or land on than does a 747, and will operate on a typical 150ft wide runway, the same as smaller planes.

Although the A380 is very much heavier than a 747, it doesn't require any strengthening of runways or taxiways, because it has four extra wheels which spread its weight evenly, reducing stress on the underlying surface.  But any taxiway or runway bridge type structures may need strengthening to support the plane's greater total weight.

However, taxiways may need widening to ensure that the outboard engines of the A380 are above sealed surface, reducing the likelihood of them ingesting whatever might be otherwise lying on grass surfaces and damaging the engines.  And taxiways also may need increased lane width and separation due to the A380's 50' greater wingspan.

When the A380 pulls into a gate, it ideally wants to have three jetways to speed the loading and unloading of passengers, and may need extra space between its gate and adjacent gates (again because of its greater wingspan).

Other issues involve things such as getting service vehicles that can reach the greater height of the A380's top deck, and having ground tugs strong enough to tow the A380.

By 2011, more than 70 airports will be ready for A380 operations.  While that might not sound like a lot, when you consider that - today - 80% of all 747 flights are between just 37 different airports, and looking to the future, it is expected that 70% of A380 flights will be between 25 different airports, plainly the airport resources needed to ensure the necessary deployment of A380s are being arranged.

One problem that has yet to be resolved is an International Civil Aviation Organization ruling that requires increased separation between A380s and other planes.  This means that there has to be a longer delay between an A380 landing or taking off at an airport and another plane following it, and at an airport with an already maxed out schedule of take-offs and landings, these extra delays can run contrary to all the other benefits of using the larger capacity A380.

This increase in separation time may be due to an abundance of caution and concern about the possibility of the larger airplane generating extra wake turbulence.  However, the plane's efficient aerodynamic design minimizes rather than aggravates wake turbulence, and Airbus hopes to get the initial cautious ratings revised back to the same as apply to 747s and other large sized jets.  Such a revision will take time to be ratified and is not expected to take effect until some time in 2009.

Comparative Facts and Figures

To put the planes into perspective, here is a table showing relevant aspects of the current biggest/best 747 (the 747-400ER), the A380, and the new 747-8 (not yet in production).

Not a very good picture, but the best I could manage - this shows the A380 (on the left) with a 747 alongside it on the right, to show you sort of the respect size of the two planes.  Yes, the A380 is clearly much bigger - a taller tail, a much bigger fuselage, and (not apparent here) enormously bigger wings, but the difference is size isn't as starkly apparent as between, say, a 747 and a 777.

Lengthwise, it is not dissimilar to a 747, and it typically has a capacity for only about 100 more passengers than a current version 747 - about a 25% increase.  Interestingly, although passenger numbers are about 25% up on a 747, cabin floor space is 50% greater, giving a much more spacious and less crowded feel to the plane.
 

 

747-400ER

A380

747-8

Length

232 ft

240 ft

251 ft

Wingspan

211 ft

262 ft

225 ft

Tail Height

63' 8"

79' 1"

63' 6"

Empty Weight

406,900 lbs

610,200 lbs

410,000 lbs

Max Takeoff Weight

910,000 lbs

1,235,000 lbs

970,000 lbs

Range (miles)

8880

9440

9260

Cruising speed

Mach 0.855
570 mph

Mach 0.85
560 mph

Mach 0.855
570 mph

Passenger capacity
(3 class)

up to 416

up to 538

up to 467

Passenger capacity
(2 class)

up to 524

up to 644

 

Cabin Width

20' main deck

21' 7" main deck
19' 5" upper deck

20' 1" main deck

 

What You Won't Find in an A380

In a situation that eerily reflects the evolution of the 747 cabin layout (which started off with piano bars and lounges), initial hype over the larger A380 cabin had various airline executives and industry commentators predicting nonsensically fanciful uses of the A380's cabin space.

Among the various things proposed for the A380 cabin were :

  • Beauty Salons

  • Gymnasiums

  • Shopping Arcades

  • Meeting Rooms

  • Games Rooms and Casinos

  • Bars and Lounges

  • Restaurants

  • Separate sleeping areas

All of these ideas would consume large amounts of space while generating very small amounts of extra income per square foot of space, and the people proposing such ideas never seemed to comprehend that most airlines would rather use the available space by putting more seats in and earning more money by carrying more passengers.

So, unsurprisingly, little or nothing of these ideas have survived to the actual reality of the plane layouts, with the most extravagant user of luxury space to date being Emirates (two bar/lounges and two shower/spas).

How many seats are there on an A380?

Just like the situation with the 747 (or any other plane), there are many different ways that the 551 sq m (5931 sq ft) of cabin space on an A380 can be used for passenger seating.

Airbus initially said that a recommended/typical configuration for an A380 would be for 555 seats, split over three different classes (first, business and economy).  It subsequently reduced that number down to 525, and at the same time used the weight saving to allow for an increase in range of 230 miles.

The plane is certified to hold up to 853 passengers, based on testing to determine how many people can exit the plane in a simulated emergency, with only half the emergency exits working, in less than 90 seconds.  The Airbus testing had 853 passengers and 20 crew exit the plane in 78 seconds, and in complete darkness.

The following table lists current seating arrangements announced by airlines with A380s.

Airline

Total

First

Business

Premium
Economy

Economy

Singapore

471

12
1-2-1
lower

60
1-2-1
upper

0

399 on both decks
3-4-3 on lower
2-4-2 on upper

Emirates

489

14
1-2-1
upper

76
1-2-1
upper

0

399
3-4-3
lower

Emirates
Med range
(11 hr or less)

517

?

?

0

?

Emirates
Two Class

604

0

?

0

?

Qantas

450

14
1-1-1
lower

72
2-2-2
upper

32
2-3-3
upper

332
3-4-3
lower

Air France

538

9
1-2-1
lower

80
2-2-2
upper

0

106
2-4-2
upper
343
3-4-3
lower

Air Austral

840

0

0

0

840

Lufthansa

526

8
1-2-1
upper

98
2-2-2
upper

0

420
3-4-3
lower

 

Major A380 Customers

Here's a list of all airlines that have ordered A380s, as of 12 August 2008.

There has been only two orders for less than five planes - one is for the 'Flying Palace' plane ordered for Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the billionaire investor dubbed the Saudi Arabian Warren Buffett; and the other order for four is actually referred to as a 'commitment' rather than an order.  It is from Grupo Marsans, the largest tourism and transportation company in Spain.  It operates two airline brands - Aerolineas Argentinas and Air Comet.

Note that the entry for ILFC refers to the airplane leasing company; the actual airlines that will be leasing these planes from ILFC are not yet known.

Airline

Orders

Air France

12

British Airways

12

China Southern

5

Emirates

58

Etihad

10

Grupo Marsans

4

ILFC

10

Kingdom Holding Company

1

Kingfisher Airlines

5

Korean Airlines

8

Lufthansa

15

Malaysia Airlines

6

Qantas Airways

20

Qatar Airways

5

Singapore Airlines

19

Thai Airways

6

Virgin Atlantic

6

 

Future Enhancements to the A380

The A380 has been designed to allow for easy future enhancements and increase in size.  In particular, its massive wings can support a much greater weight than the present model A380-800.

Airbus has already announced, in November 2007, plans for a larger A380-900, something that has been widely expected for some time prior to the announcement.  This would stretch the current 240' fuselage to 261', making it the world's longest plane, and increasing its seating capacity by about 100 passengers.

Development of this larger model A380 is expected to start in 2010, with the first commercial flights expected in 2015.

Many of the A380's biggest customers such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines have already expressed interest in this larger version A380.

There was also talk of a smaller A380, designated possibly an A380-700.  When the plane was first known as an A3XX it was discussed in three variations, with the A380-800 representing the midsize and the A380-900 representing the larger size; the A380-700 would be the third of these three variations.

Little has been heard of the -700 version since it was first implied in the mid 1990s, and probably the continued narrowing of the gap between the largest other airplanes, and the filling of that small gap by the 747-8 has caused the -700 concept to be discontinued.

Part 3 of a four part series on the Airbus A380 - please also visit

1.  Airbus A380 antecedents

2.  Differing plans for a 747 successor

3.  A380 completion, configuration, and controversy

4.  Inside an Emirates A380

 

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Originally published 15 August 2008, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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