Qantas says the Airbus A380 superjumbo will remain an important part of its fleet, despite the decision by Airbus to wind down the program by 2021.
Qantas is embarking a significant revamp of its A380s which will see it add more premium seating, a move that caters for the increased demand for premium economy but also boosts yields on the aircraft.
Reconfiguration will now start from July this year and be complete across the 12 aircraft by December, 2020 as Qantas celebrates its 100th birthday.
The aircraft is going from 484 seats to 485 overall but the airline is taking 30 economy seats off the aircraft and adding six additional business seats as well as 25 more premium economy seats that mirror those on the 787.
That will bring the seat count to 14 first suites, 70 business suites, 60 premium economy seats and 341 seats in economy.
The move will also replace outdated business class seating with the well-regarded flat-bed business suite to standardize its offering across the entire fleet of A380s, Boeing 787-9s and Airbus A330s.
“It really is about making sure our customers know what to expect when they get on board a Qantas aircraft,’’ Qantas International chief executive Alison Webster told AirlineRatings.
Also on the cards is a significant change at the front of the upper deck where two social areas/bars will be installed.
Webster was coy on the details but said she expected the new areas “to surprise and delight customers” and that more space would be opened up.
Industrial designer David Caon, who has been using virtual reality to help tweak the design and work with Qantas, promised the lounge will be “a beautiful place to be”.
“It’s a bar but it’s also a place you can go and spend time with your friends who might not be in the seat next to you,” he said.
Qantas inadvertently became entangled in the A380’s demise because of the timing of a decision to formally cancel an outstanding order for eight superjumbos.
The announcement added to the growing speculation about the program’s fate, even though the Australian carrier had flagged the move for some years.
Webster said the airline’s 12 A380s continued to play an important role in its international fleet.
“It’s why we’re investing in the reconfiguration and refresh for them,’’ she said.
“They actually play a tremendously important role on some of our long-range sectors: Sydney and Melbourne via Singapore to London and also to the west coast of the USA.
“The four cabin configuration gives our customers choice and we also know premium economy is incredibly popular on the A380, which is why I mentioned earlier that we’re increasing the premium footprint of that aircraft.’’
She acknowledged that the four-engine aircraft was “challenged’’ in terms of fuel consumption when compared with its twin-engine counterparts.
But she said the Flying kangaroo’s objective was to recognize it had a role to play with the right aircraft on the right route with the right configuration.
“And certainly in slot-constrained airports, it will still be an important aircraft for us,” she said.
Webster said the airline now had the added advantage of being able to use its 787-9s to downgauge capacity to match demand when an A380 was not warranted.
She said it was managing that process well on markets like Los Angeles, Hong Kong and San Francisco (where it mixes 747s and A380s).
“The 787-9 is the liberating piece of the fleet network and we get benefits across both the A380 and the A330 as a result of it,’’ she added.
Despite the end of the A380 program, Webster said Qantas was doing the right things with the aircraft to best add value to its operations.
Passengers also loved the giant aircraft.
“They absolutely love them,’’ she said. “You watch customer reaction when they come out.
“ And some of our customers will only fly on a sector if they know it’s the A380. They’ll consciously shift their day of travel to be on the A380 and that’s why there is a strength in the proposition.”
Qantas is not the only airline still investing in the A380.
Singapore Airlines is also updating its A380 fleet, spending $US850m in an upgrade that includes a striking first class Suites product centered on a unique swivel armchair and an all-new business class seat surrounded by a futuristic carbon composite shell.
The new cabins are the culmination of four years’ work involving extensive customer research, customer focus groups and a partnership with designers and manufacturers.
And Emirates, whose decision to switch many of its A380 orders to twin-engine aircraft sounded the death knell for the program, still has 14 planes to come.
“The A380 will remain a pillar of our fleet well into the 2030s, and as we have always done, Emirates will continue to invest in our onboard product and services so our customers can be assured that the Emirates A380 experience will always be top-notch,” Emirates chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said this week.