This entry is the first installment of a two-part review of the Airbus A380 fleet operation highlighting the various cabin configurations selected by current operators. The aircraft first entered service with Singapore Airlines in October of 2007. According to Airbus, by May 31st 2011, 49 aircraft had been delivered to 6 of the 18 customer airlines covering the 234-aircraft order book. Because our review gives priority to newest operators, part I will deal with Korean Air, Air France and Lufthansa, while part II will analyze Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. Korean Air first A380 test-registered F-WWAT was ferried June 1st 2011 to its new Seoul home base from where it will operate registered as HL-7611. In May 2011, A380 deliveries also included Air France’s F-HPJE and Lufthansa’s D-AIMG. The innovative double-deck wide body design is marketed in a class by itself where 525 passengers can be transported comfortably in a standard 3 Class configuration on 8,300 nm-long trips. The standard set by the Boeing 747-400ER previously allowed 416 passengers to be carried a distance of 7,670 nm. Configured in a single ultra high density class, the A380 is capable of airlifting up to 853 passengers. Benefiting from flight deck commonality with other Airbus widebody jets of the A330/A340 family has provided a strong incentive for replacing A340-200/-300. Newer advanced features such as the Brake-to-Vacate auto brake system have been selected by Air France and Lufthansa. This feature is used by pilots while still on approach to program the necessary amount of breaking power needed to slow down the aircraft upon landing. As a result the aircraft spends a very short time on the runway as the exit taxiway is known in advance. The choice of an engine by operators has so far been split evenly with 3 carriers each operating the Engine Alliance GP7200 or the Rolls-Royce Trent 900. With its enormous fuselage dotted by 220 cabin windows, the aircraft Latecoere Taxi Air Camera System (TACS) provides additional eyes to the pilot during delicate ground maneuver. The aircraft main landing gear units seat on 20 wheels in addition to the 2 forward. Inside, comfort does not solely rely on plentiful real estate, the ambient air is re-cycled every 3 minutes . With airlines having heavily invested in what Airbus presents as a game changer, we are now reviewing the innovative products and services packaged around the new plane.
The manufacturer standard layout
The configuration baseline proposed by Airbus assigns 555-passengers in 3 classes of service. The upper deck offers comfortable seating for up to 199 passengers divided into 96 Business Class seats in 2-2-2 rows and 103 Economy Class seats in a 2-4-2 configuration along with a flight attendants requirement of 8 personnel. Lavatories distribution is 4 in Business Class and 3 in Economy. The crew resting quarter in the rear is furnished with 5 bunks with as many as 6 coat storage closets nearby. The main deck absorbs 356 seats with 22 seats for First Class using 2-2-2 rows plus 2 lavatories and 334 seats in Economy Class with 8 lavatories. On the main deck Economy seats are arranged in rows of 10 passengers abreast using the standard 3-4-3 layout. Attendants on the main deck would number 12.
The aircraft has a total of 16 passenger doors, 10 on the main deck and 6 on the upper deck opposing one another on either side of the fuselage. A simple designation system identifies door M1L, M2L or M1R and M2R as the first and second doors respectively on the left and right of the main deck. Similarly the upper deck would use U1L/U1R, U2L/U2R, U3L/U3R designating 1st, 2nd and 3rd doors respectively on the left and right side of the fuselage. Boarding procedures optimally use three bridges including 2 connected to the main deck’s 2 forward doors, and one to the upper deck. However depending on the airport and airline procedure, a pair combination of a single main deck and upper deck bridge, or 2 main deck bridges remain most practical. Doors giving access to the lower cargo holds are located forward and aft of the aircraft wing on the right side of the fuselage. A smaller door is available for access to the rear bulk cargo hold.
1. Korean Air
Korean Airlines, the newest of the A380 operators since May 24th 2011 has a total order for 10 aircraft. It expects delivery of another 4 aircraft during this year 2011 alone with the remaining 5 aircraft joining the fleet by 2014. The ferry flight of the first aircraft from Toulouse to Seoul actually took place June 1st after final acceptance tests were completed. This aircraft will begin operating on shorter haul flights between Seoul and Tokyo, and between Seoul and Hong Kong initially. The carrier does not plan to introduce the type on the North American routes it is most intended for until more aircraft are available in the rotation. Flights to New York will initially operate at a 3 times per week frequency starting August 2nd. Daily service will take place from September 1st while the daily service to Los Angeles is set to begin October 1st 2011. By specifying a 407 passengers configuration in 3 classes, Korean Air has selected the lowest passenger seating capacity, and possibly most spacious cabin of all 6 current A380 operators. The engine selected by the carrier is the Engine Alliance GP7200.
Seating Capacity: 407
Business Class: 94 Prestige Flat Bed seats
First Class: 12 Kosmo Suiteseats
Economy Class: 301 seats
For privacy, the First Class Kosmo Suite is surrounded by partitioning side walls whose height still partially exposes a passenger upper body. This enclosed area comprises the actual 26.5-in wide seat and a separate foot-rest panel. This set-up offers 83-in of pitch. The 23-in wide Liquid Crystal Display blends into the partition wall facing the passenger seat. Located on the main deck, the First Class Kosmo Suites are available for 12 passengers. The Suites only occupy 3 rows in 1-2-1 abreast. Passengers can enjoy such amenities as individual reading lamp for work and reading or relax with entertainment delivered from the wide selection of Audio Video On Demand (AVOD) programming. The seat position and angle can be actioned into a fully flat bed for sleep via a side-mounted electronic control button. The combination of fine wood and leather finish provide a superior experience.
Korean Air has made available its entire A380 upper deck to Business class travelers in a very comfortable 2-2-2 row layout providing easy access to aisle. The 94 Prestige Sleeper Seats have a pitch of 74-inch and also transform to a fully flat horizontal bed.The 21.6-in wide seats are paired with 15.4-in large LCD monitors mounted on the seatback assembly of the preceding seat. An electronic control system permits to adjust foot and back support position. Individually adjustable reading lamps are conducive of work while the huge ergonomically designed seatback assembly provides a cocoon-like feeling of safety. Once reclined, the seat seems completely absorbed into the seatback frame ensuring some feeling of privacy and safety.
The New 18-in wide Economy Class seat pitch varies between 33 and 34-in on the main deck. The 121-degree of reclining angle is very generous in that class of service maintaining above standard comfort for passengers, enhanced by the 10.6-inch seatback-mounted high resolution Liquid Crystal Displays wide screen and their AVOD content.
Value to the fleet
The Kosmo Suite available on Korean Air A380 is an enhanced version of the First Class Kosmo Sleeper Seat flown on Korean Air Boeing 747-400 and 777-200ER. In comparison the A380 Kosmo Suite has retained the semi-private enclosed seat/bed/desk (also known as Sky Office) approach but only with larger LCD (23-in vs 17-in). And again the more elegant wood-leather finish appeals more than the composite-plastics panel surface experienced on the 747-400 and 777-200ER. Aboard the Boeing 777-300, a similar set up is available but only with smaller 10.4-in LCD screens. Older aircraft still fly the First Class Sleeper seat with armrest-mounted individual 10.4-in LCD. These still permit a fully flat sleep experience using adjustable foot support. The airline also maintains a First Class seat that uses a smaller individual 6.5-in wide LCD screen but does not offer a fully flat sleeping position (the back support remains at a 158 degree angle with the elevated foot support). Although similar in appearance, the pod-like Prestige Sleeper Business Seat improves on the older Prestige Plus Seat by offering a fully flat sleeping experience and a larger AVOD LCD screen of 15.4-in vs 10.4-in. Korean Air also maintain more regular Prestige Business class seat that use 6.5-in wide armrest mounted LCD. According to the carrier, every A380 aircraft will showcase its own on-board duty free shopping displays of cosmetics, perfumes, liquors and various products along with a bar-lounge area. In the near future Korean Air will be able to deliver and sustain products that are competitive to the utmost as the carrier prepares fly the 10 Airbus A380 alongside 5 brand new Boeing 747-8I supported by 10 Boeing 787-9.
2. Lufthansa: the smallest First Class
Lufthansa officially became the fifth Airbus 380-800 operator on May 19th, 2010 and currently flies 7 aircraft out of its total order of 15 aircraft. The aircraft is now operating on routes linking Lufthansa’s Frankfurt global hub to Johannesburg, New York, Miami (as of June 10th 2011), Beijing and Tokyo while a service to Singapore is set to begin October 30th 2011. The carrier has opted for a standard 3-Class configuration relying on the Rolls Royce Trent 900 family of engines. With 526 seats on board, Lufthansa’s A380 comes second in passenger capacity right behind Air France’s 538-seater. This 526-seat configuration makes possible 8 Flat Bed seats in First Class, 98 seats in Business Class and 420 seats in Economy Class.
Seating Capacity: 526
First Class: 8 Flat Bed seats
Business Class: 98 seats
Economy Class: 420 seats
Lufthansa First Class product has not crossed into the Suite paradigm through which many carriers will attempt to cement their brand product differentiation. Lufthansa more traditional approach has put a strong emphasis on quality. For the 8 passengers flying on Lufthansa A380’s First Class, the concept of privacy, although not enforced with actual partitions seem reinvigorated through a feeling of exclusivity. All feelings aside, the carrier is pushing a 23-in wide LCD screen mounted on an elegantly furnished vertical pylon opposite the seated passenger. The 92-in pitch separating passenger and LCD screen reinforces the impression of spaciousness. When reclined, the 31.5-in wide First Class seat simply offers a real bed, but again the lack of partition may leave some feeling exposed while sleeping. Sober comfort, vast leg space and a feeling of efficiency pervade this very small First Class cabin whose seat layout is 1-2-1 (only 2 rows). Positioning this small cabin in the aircraft upper deck adds an exclusive character to the overall experience. The quality of furnishings, the selection of colors, the absence of clutter, the judicious use of straight lines in the design, the very generous 92-in pitch and overall spaciousness makes this product stand very high.
The Business class cabin on Lufthansa A380 occupies the portion of the upper deck located aft of the small First Class cabin. Thus Lufthansa reserves the entire upper deck for its premium paying customers. Ergonomically tucked within seatback assembly covers, these seats unfortunately do not offer a fully horizontal sleeping position. Primarily designed to protect a passenger personal space whenever the seat in front reclines, the seatback assembly can also adversely limit the leg-support elevation. With Lufthansa this means a Business seat that will recline neither fully flat nor horizontally despite the generous 60 inches of pitch helping counter balance the other space constraints. With 19.6-in width and personal LCD, business travelers can still enjoy their stay relying on world-class Lufthansa Media World AVOD system. Lufthansa A380s accommodate 420 Economy Class passengers in 3-4-3 rows all on the main deck (bearing in mind that a 3-Class 747-400 can only handle at most 416 passengers). This very high density can only be achieved at the expense of pitch (31-in) and seat recline (113 degrees). With Air France, Lufthansa seems to have established a pattern for high passenger density A380. This is seemingly the by-product of the business model for highly competitive Global European carriers generating massive traffic at their global hub: the pattern provides for a very limited number of First Class seats (8 to 9 seats), a large Business Class (98 to 106 seats) and a very ‘dense’ Economy Class cabin (420 to 449 seats).
Lufthansa products have achieved durability and consistency in line with its reputation and maturity. The carrier has sustained very robust operation relying on 30 relatively older Boeing 747-400 while the backbone of its long haul fleet has been the long established Airbus A340-300 and the more recently added A340-600 (with a few A330 also). At a time when few carriers could afford to ignore the immensely popular Boeing 777-300ER, Lufthansa waited apparently for a more suitable 747-400 replacement (20 Boeing 747-8I were ordered December 6th 2006). The logical selection of the A380 for absorbing traffic growth was perfectly timed to respond to competitive pressure from Air France. However company plans for a new Business Class Flat bed solution are unlikely to materialize without reducing the overall number of seats available aboard the A380. It is then likely that Lufthansa will have a formidable long haul main fleet of 15 A380 and 20 Boeing 747-8I offering both capacity and innovative comfort.
3. Air France: largest seating capacity
Air France currently operates 5 Airbus A380-800 first deployed on October 30th 2009 and was the first European carrier to operate the type. The French carrier, part of the Air France-KLM Group has an order for 12 aircraft and is expecting to take delivery of more aircraft this year. The carrier has a long experience operating General Electric CF-6 family of engines on its Boeing 747-200/-300/-400 series aircraft as well as the GE-90 family in all its Boeing 777s has naturally settled for the General Alliance GP7200 model for its A380-800. The A380 operates scheduled flights between Paris Charles De Gaulle and Johannesburg daily, to Montreal daily, to New York City 6 times a week, Tokyo three times a week, Washington DC, San Francisco (daily between June 6th and September 4th 2011). The 3-Class configuration selected by Air France consists of 9 seats in ‘La Premiere’ First Class, 80 seats in the ‘Espace Affaire’ Business class and 449 seats in the ‘Voyageur’ Economy class. With 538 seats available on board, Air France’s A380 have the largest capacity of all the A380 currently in service.
Seating Capacity: 538
The Upper Deck
Espace Affaire (Business); 80 seats
Voyageur (Economy): 106 seats
The Main Deck
La Premier: 9 seats
Voyageur (Economy): 343 seats
Air France First Class cabin selection of fine interior furnishing reminisces the comfort and luxury of a well designed home living room. In a 1-2-1, each seat points at a slight arched angling away from the aisle. Directly opposite each seat is the individual storage cabinet whose padded upper surface also serves as foot rest. The 81-in seat pitch is very competitive, with the 35-in width measurement making for the most comfortable sleeping experience in this category. An individual LCD deploys from a storage position in the seat lateral panel, so does the individual table.
After a new fully flat Business seat was introduced aboard the carrier’s newest Boeing 777-300ER December 2010, customer review convinced management to retrofit at least 63 of its long haul aircraft with the new product by 2012. We anticipate that Air France will showcase these seats on their A380 flagship product. Providing 55-in of pitch, the new Business Class seats are 24-in wide and improve on the older seats by now offering an actual flat bed and horizontal sleeping experience along with a 15-in wide LCD In-Flight Entertainment system. Current Business Class seats reside on the upper deck in 2-2-2. We are not sure yet to what extent a retrofit with bigger seats would entail a reduction in overall seating capacity.
Air France currently maintains the largest economy class cabin of all A380 operators. However this approach has not impacted customer comfort as the Voyageur seats retain 19-in of width and 32-in of pitch. In the A380 upper deck rear section, they are arrayed in rows of 2-4-2. On the main deck where the Economy Class begins right past the small First Class, the voluminous interior of the A380 is fully taken advantage of using the 3-4-3 row scheme.
Value to the fleet
The carrier operates about 100 aircraft in its long haul fleet including at least 55 Boeing 777-200ER/300ER, 10 Boeing 747-400, 18 A340 and 15 A330. The carrier claims that at its Paris Charles De Gaulle global hub, 60% of long haul passengers are connecting. Thus making clear the need for bigger planes -with the highest acceptable passenger configuration- in order to relieve escalating traffic growth. In fact the carrier has recognized that the A380 brings “equivalent capacity to that of a Boeing 777-200 combined to an Airbus A340-300, while offering a 20% reduction in operating costs”
So far we have seen how A380 operators have varied their cabin configuration away from the manufacturer baseline, in better accordance with their specific strategic requirements. However we notice how each carrier avoided the 2-2-2 first class main deck in favor of a more comfortable option. Korean Air Kosmo Suites are deployed still on the main deck, but in 1-2-1 rows along with Air France’s La Premiere. Lufthansa altogether took its 1-2-1 First Class cabin ‘upstairs’. Air France has noticeably dispersed its Economy cabin in two different locations. In terms of operational benefits, Air France statement best captures the ‘Game Changing’ character: “The size and performance of the A380, particularly well-suited to the Air France network, will save the Company from 12 to 15 million euros per aircraft per year. In today’s depressed economic climate, the giant airliner provides the Company with the means to withstand the crisis…With the A380, Air France can continue to offer its customers improved service while at the same time improving economic efficiency. On board, three bars divided between the two decks, additional space and comfort ensure that traveling on board this super jumbo is a moment of well-being, in a particularly quiet cabin.”
Airways Magazine October 2010 A380-Lufthansa Style