New Emirates A380 Variant Will Seat 615, The Highest To Date.

A380-800-EmiratesEmirates has announced that it would begin deploying a new seating configuration on its flagship A380. The new aircraft cabin configuration, capable of seating 615 passengers would be the largest yet among all in-service A380s and is set to enter operation on the Dubai – Copenhagen route this coming December. To date the route had been operated by a 777-300ER. The new aircraft variant dubbed Ultra High Density had been up to 3 years in the making, and follows on the two previous cabin configurations spread among the currently 60 aircraft-strong A380 Emirates fleet.


The third A380 variant to fly with Emirates

Emirates was the second carrier to operate the Airbus A380 type right after Singapore Airline with first service taking place on the Dubai – New York JFK route on August 1st 2008. The present day fleet had combined 2 variants: the Long Range A380 variant with a 3-Class cabin configuration that accommodates 517 passengers and the Ultra Long Range A380 aircraft capable of carrying 489 passengers. Both variants had retained a nearly identical 3-Class cabin albeit for an entire section of 28 Economy Class seats that had been removed from the main deck aft section on the Ultra Long Range aircraft. These variations had made possible for the carrier to flexibly assign aircraft giving priority to seat count vs range.

The most seats in the sky

The newer version targeted by the carrier for medium range service operation had been in the making for a few year while initially targeting a 2-class cabin arrangement that could accommodate 604 passengers. With 615 seats; 58 Business Class seats plus 557 in Coach, the final product has been made possible by both eliminating the 14 First Class cabin suites and also reducing the Business Class seat count from 76 to 58. On the two previous variants, the carrier had elected to have an all-premium seats upper deck together with a bar, leaving the main deck to full Coach.

This upper deck premium arrangement has been partly maintained; the bar has been retained there where it is paired to the flat bed Business Class seat.

Full utilization of available space on the main deck has permitted 427 Economy seats to be available. Additional space freed up on the main deck, from the removal of the First Class Suites and the smaller Business Class now permits to fit some 130 Economy seats right behind the Business Class section.

In comparison to other A380 operators, the new Emirates 615 seating capacity variant will only be challenged by up and coming Russian carrier Transaero once deliveries of its 652-seats A380s begin later this year.

For Emirates which has plans to operate up to 140 A380, the pace does not seem to be slowing. The Emirates Dubai hub has efficiently linked travelers to any point on the planet via a single stop. To that end the carrier has skillfully leveraged Open Skies agreements to build up direct long haul routes to and from Dubai. First using smaller A330 to build up demand, incrementally replacing the A330 with its workhorses Boeing 777-300ER while simultaneously adding frequencies before finally pushing the surging traffic to the Super Jumbo A380.

The recipe seems to work: while the Copenhagen A380 route will be flown once daily, the carrier is set to launch a second daily A380 service flight linking Gatwick. Beginning October 1st 2015, Zurich will be bumped from 777-300ER service to A380 service.

India Finally Orders 36 Dassault Rafale

rafale_afpThe announcement came April 10th as India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was on official visit to France. The contract whose value is estimated at EUR 5 billions will see all 36 aircraft built at Dassault’s Merignac factory in the south of France. Deliveries of the aircraft to the Indian Air Force would occur between 2017 and 2019. India has become the second nation to acquire the type after Egypt this past February.

The deal at last ends a decade long failed acquisition process that initially sought to equip India’s Air Force with a potent future replacement for its obsolescent and accident-prone fleet of Mig-21 which had numbered more than 850 machines. The EUR 15 billion competing tender first issued in the early 2000s put a requirement for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft MMRCA. Crucial to the bidding process was the transfer of technology clause put forth by the client in which only 18 of the 126 aircraft would be built by the original aircraft manufacturer. The remaining 108 airframes would have to be built in India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in India.

Despite Dassault Rafale winning the competition in January 2012 against such credible competitors as the Eurofighter EF-2000, Boeing F-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16E/F, Mikoyan Mig-35 a firm purchase contract failed to materialize. Both sides began haggling around escalating cost since the time the tender was first  issued, transfer of sensitive French military technology, and the skepticism of Dassault with regards to quality control issues at India’s Hindustan Aeronautics factories where 108 of the 126 aircraft were to be licensed-built.

Friday’s announcement appears to have been the resultant of India’s Air Force urgent need to fill operational capabilities at a time of escalated growth of Chinese and Pakistani air power capabilities, as well as a need to reassure France’s position as a viable, esteemed long term military commercial partner whose armament industry’s prowess is highly regarded in India.

The demise of the Mig-21 fleet in IAF service, and the diminished availability of the precision-strike capable 1980’s era Mirage 2000 ‘Vajra’ fleet as the 51 aircraft-strong fleet undergoes an upgrade to the more modern Mirage 2000-9 standards (on a EUR 1.5 billion contract with Dassault and Thales) has caught Indian Air Force planners short-handed despite the recent delivery of the 150th locally built Sukhoi-30 MKI.

Facts are India has relied for much of its air operations contingencies (including nuclear weapon deliveries) on the Mirage 2000 fleet, as highlighted during the Kargill war in which the Dassault single-engined aircraft gained seemingly legendary status delivering precision (laser-guided) ammunition in difficult operational conditions. The Rafale, its twin engine bigger and more modern successor brings increased operational range and combat payload, benefiting from an advanced on board integrated offensive/defensive system architecture increasing flexibility, survivability and line availability.

In the current scenario, the heavier Sukhoi 30MKI type is bound to reap the profits of the bungled contract and morph into the MMRCA as it is already built locally to 150+ units and fully deployed with the IAF. The powerful highly maneuverable aircraft has grown sufficiently in maturity, operational capabilities and reliability. It has good endurance, combat range, high A/A and A/G weapons payload and is extremely maneuverable. Its latest iteration deploys  and advanced integrated systems architecture using western built sub systems.