HAMBURGAirbus has decided to formally offer an 11-abreast economy-seat configuration in the Airbus A380, despite Emirates Airline’s decision not to further pursue that arrangement. 

Airbus A380 operators will have the choice of operating the aircraft with 10-abreast economy seating on the main deck, or 11 seats. 

Two manufacturers—Zodiac and Geven—have agreed to deliver the seats. The seats are to be installed on the existing rails so that no extra floor work is needed, Airbus Vice President-Cabin Innovation and Design Ingo Wuggetzer said at the Aircraft Interiors Expo here. The new configuration will become available in 2017.

With one seat added per row, Airbus sees a need to make some changes to the inboard bins, which will be harder to reach from the aisle. The bins will be moved slightly outboard for easier access. 

How many seats can be added in total depends upon whether airlines opt for the new configuration on the entire main deck and specific layouts. The main deck typically accommodates 45 rows of economy seating.  

Emirates was initially behind the idea of an 11-abreast economy section as part of its drive to make the existing A380 fleet more efficient. But the airline became increasingly concerned that such a move would dilute its image as a high-quality economy-class operator, even though Airbus says the 11-abreast rows would still allow for 18-in.-wide seats. 

Wuggetzer says that the legacy three-class layout no longer reflects market trends. Airbus believes that more innovation should be going into economy cabins. “In the past most innovation went into premium products, but that is only for 6% of the travelers,” Wuggetzer says.

And the trend is clearly pointing towards economy: The premium share dropped from near-7%, before the 2008 financial crisis to well-below 6%, and it has not recovered since. Wuggetzer believes many corporate clients have introduced more stringent travel guidelines that do not allow executives to fly business class and have not relaxed the new rules since.

Airbus believes the premium-economy segment will therefore grow strongly. Already, 26 airlines are offering premium economy—that is equivalent of around 30% of long-haul available seat miles (ASMs). Five of 11 Airbus A380 operators have introduced the class between economy and business. Wuggetzer believes that airlines can increase revenues by $20 million-per-aircraft per year with the addition of around 60 premium-economy seats.

But as the eleven-abreast drive on the A380 indicates, Airbus also sees growth in what it calls the “budget economy” segment. Airbus will offer configurations maximizing the number of seats per row across its long-haul products in the “budget” category—nine on the A330, 10 on the A350 and 11 on the A380. 

The standard-economy cabin would feature one fewer seat per row and in premium economy a second seat would be taken out. “The issue of seat width has been underestimated. For years we have only talked about seat pitch,” Wuggetzer says.

He believes that airlines may not offer all of the sub-cabins in economy on the A330 or A350 because they would become too small to be economical, but he can see four-class A380s with two or even three different economy sections.

Airbus is also offering airlines other ways to create more space on the A380. Operators now have the option to remove the sidewall storage on the upper deck. In herringbone arrangements in business class, where seats face outboard, another row of seats could be added after every sixth row effectively converting storage space into more room for seats.