Tech Transformers

Airbus A380 faces uncertain future as airlines ask for changes

Phil Han, journalist at CNBC
Is the future of A380 a bleak one?
Is the future of A380 a bleak one?

It's been 10 years since Airbus' A380 super jumbo first took to the skies, but despite winning rave reviews among passengers, airlines have not been quick to buy.

There hasn't been a new order for the plane, which can seat up to 853 passengers, for months and the company's largest customer, Emirates, has said they won't order any more unless modifications are made.

The Gulf carrier is the largest operator of the A380, with 60 currently in use and another 80 on the way. The airline has been asking Airbus to offer a revamped A380 Neo version with new Rolls Royce engines in addition to adding sharklets to its wingtips. The carrier claims these changes could equal a 10 percent greater efficiency for the aircraft.

Qatar Airways which currently operates five A380s also said they couldn't commit to any more orders.

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Airbus has said it wouldn't commit to any future redevelopment of the plane at the moment, but the company's head of sales, John Leahy told reporters at the Paris Air Show that they are currently discussing future versions of the super-jumbo with a number of airlines.

"As far as I'm concerned, I don't have many A380s, I have five and I will receive another five and then maybe in the future we will firm up our options," Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways told CNBC.

Aviation analysts see Airbus as in a relatively difficult situation: If they decide to make modifications for future versions of the A380, it would be doing it at not only a huge cost, but a high degree of risk too.

Emirates is the only airline that has said it would order a new version – generally aircraft manufacturers won't invest millions on changes.

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"The problem the airlines have is filling it (the A380) and if they can't do that, then it's just simply not economic," Dominic Perry from Flight Global said.

"So Airbus has to convince them that it doesn't need 600 or 800 people or whatever, it is more about offering something that no other plane can."

Etihad Airways is one airline that is focusing on offering premium amenities on board. This year it launched their first class "residence" which includes a separate sitting area, a private bedroom and shower.