The competing—and once fiercely debated— hub-centric and point-to-point views of the commercial air travel market have created a battle that is now largely “theoretical” given some of the market success of the to date, says Airbus President and CEO Fabrice Bregier.
“When a customer operates an A380 they gain market share,” even in markets where Airbus never guessed the big aircraft would operate, he says. “And the competitors can notice it.”
With hub depeaking and network changes worldwide, much of the large-volume hub-to-hub traffic foreseen a decade ago that helped justify the A380’s launch has yet to materialize. But Bregier, briefing reporters earlier this week at Airbus’s Toulouse aircraft-delivery center, argues that while neither of the two airframers’ competing visions may have proved wholly accurate, airline success stories and the size of the backlogs make the case that the European consortium made the right call years ago.
“The majority of the growth of Emirates [Airline] comes from the introduction into service of the A380,” he asserted. “Right now Emirates would like to have more aircraft, delivered faster,” as would other operators.
Large aircraft sales for both Airbus and Boeing have been sluggish, and the A380—in service now for more than five years—has yet to break even, with 101 aircraft flying and 160 on the books awaiting delivery.
“I would prefer to have 500 or 600,” Bregier said. “But how many[does] Boeing [have] in its backlog, you know? Check with them. I don’t think it’s close to 160.”
The Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) Fleets database shows the-8 backlog at 58, with 38 in service, but the aircraft was also only introduced in 2011 and has been in service for less than two years.
Bregier said Airbus’s objective is to deliver 25-30 A380s each year, adding that the company will deliver 25 this year and “probably a little higher next year.”
In contrast to theline—with slots sold through 2020—“we still have a few slots, less than [can be counted] on one hand” in 2015 for the A380.
“I am pretty convinced that this A380 will get additional orders this year and the years to come,” he said. Bregier believes “we have the potential to achieve” break-even levels on the program in 2015.
Emirates operates the world’s largest A380 fleet, with 31 aircraft in service and 59 on order, according to the AWIN Fleets database.
It is also flying the aircraft in unusual ways, such asto Malpensa Airport in Milan, or a flight a day between Dubai and the U.K.’s Manchester Airport.
“Dubai-Milan, Dubai-Manchester, is it point-to-point or is it hub? It’s a mix,” said Bregier. “It’s a market which didn’t exist and with the talent of Emirates, the vision of [airline president] Tim Clark and the quality of A380 he makes a lot of money with it.”
Tom Williams, executive vice president of programs for Airbus, notes that “when we talked about the destinations we could fly the aircraft to, we originally had about 26 major destinations in mind. We certainly didn’t have Manchester in mind. It wasn’t one of our destinations.”
While depeaking and other changes are real, other changes have come into play that also help the A380’s business case. Slot restrictions and noise restrictions play a major role, and the airplane’s size and relative quiet have proved attractive at those airports.
“So if you’ve flown down to Sydney, you know that if you end up changing or doing a stop in Bangkok, you’ll see the A380s leaving earlier than the other aircraft, and that’s because they’re allowed to come into Sydney much earlier in the morning than non-A380 aircraft,” Williams said. “And that’s just because of the quietness of the aircraft,” which opens up new destinations.