LE BOURGET - Airbus is considering stretching the A380 as it slowly prepares a decision about the launch of the A380neo.

“We are discussing a little stretch with some of the airlines,” Airbus Chief Operating Officer Customers John Leahy said on the opening day of the Paris air show. The manufacturer is currently talking to around “half a dozen potential customers” and Leahy says it is “not a question of when, but if” Airbus will go ahead with the reengined A380 version.

Airbus so far has sold 317 A380s, 159 of which have been delivered. So far, Emirates is the only carrier that has publicly expressed strong interest in a reengined version of the aircraft. Lessor Amedeo, which holds an order for 20 A380s, has suggested Airbus should combine the launch of the neo with a substantial stretch and the arrival of even better (Rolls-Royce) engines around 2025. But Leahy’s comments seem to suggest that the stretch could come earlier and would be intended to minimize development work. He did not want to elaborate on how many seats could be added if Airbus went ahead with the stretch.

Airbus has been evaluating other upgrades to the A380 in addition to new engines, including cabin reconfiguration which would allow airlines to add several more seat rows. Any stretch would not require a new wing as the current wing has already been designed for the proposed -900 version. Emirates President Tim Clark has said in the past that he would clearly favor a stretched version of the A380 sooner rather than later. A stretch would also help Airbus keep unit costs below what can be achieved by the A350-1000, 787-10 or the upcoming versions of the Boeing 777X.

Airbus remains bullish as far as demand for the largest category aircraft is concerned. Leahy believes the market will be at around 1,550 aircraft in the next 20 years, that is around three times the demand Boeing is projecting. Leahy argues that the number of mega-cities will also double from the current 47 to 91. Airbus defines mega-cities as markets with more than 10,000 passengers per day departing on flights of more than 2,000 nm.

Airbus has always planned to eventually turn the A380 program into a family with a stretched A380-900 following the current A380-800. The -900 was slated to seat around 100 more passengers than the -800 taking capacity in a standard three-class lay out to around 650.

Airbus has more near-term issues to overcome. Last week, CEO Fabrice Brégier conceded the company may not reach its target of 30 deliveries this year as financially troubled carrier Transaero may shift deliveries out.