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Airbus A380 Case Study

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Never since the introduction of Concorde in 1969, has there been so much Public interest in an aircraft as in Airbus’s A380. This giant of the sky has captured the public imagination in many ways from its shear size to possible futuristic cabin arrangements. So it begs the question what are the advantages and disadvantages of the A380 for the Airlines who operate her, the Airports who accommodate her and the passengers whom fly in her?

There are endless positives and negatives about the A380 but in the following analysis the major and most important ones shall be discussed. Information about A380 is mainly obtained from the manufacturer. Other information has been found on the CAA website and in Kings Norton library, Cranfield.


Airbus claims that the A380 has a lower operating cost when compared with the largest aircraft flying today. They also say that its higher capacity and range is accompanied by a reduction in both noise and emissions when compared with its nearest competitor. This is all food for thought for airlines and can be seen as an advantage of the aircraft, airlines buying A380 can increase availability on popular routes leading to more satisfied customers. This will also be at a lower operating cost per seat mile says Airbus, typically quoted at around 10-15% cheaper than its competitor. They also claim that the A380 has a 12% lower fuel burn per seat than a 747-400. All this information can be viewed with some scepticism as the information is taken from the Airbus published document “The Airbus Way” which produces no founding for these facts or explanation of which competing aircraft it compares A380 to. It can reasonably be assumed however that they compare to Boeings 747-400.

A point that isn’t so muddy or ambiguous, from which airlines can benefit, is that the Airbus product range has high degree of cockpit commonality allowing pilots to train quickly between aircraft. For example the type rating required between a small Airbus the A319 and the largest serviceable Airbus the A340-600 requires just 8 days training. This is just 1 day between an A330 and an A340. In most other aircraft manufacturers families this requires at least 25 days. Airlines operating an Airbus fleet can take advantage of this Cross Crew Qualification (CCQ) and operate Mixed Fleet Flying (MFF). MFF means greater crewing schedule flexibility allowing a relatively small pool of Pilots to fly both short and long-haul flights. This keeps pilots current and also their “landings” up. Long-haul pilots tend not to accrue so many landings as they operate fewer sectors so the ability to fly the smaller aircraft short-haul also allows them to get landings. Now with the introduction of A380 airlines can take real advantage of CCQ and MFF, quoted times to type rate for A380 have been 10 days1. Airlines already taking advantage of this include Air Mauritius and Cathay Pacific.

It is believed that the introduction of A380 to the market of Large Passenger Jets will increase the competition in the Boeing dominated market, therefore creating healthy competition on price etc. A380 due to its increased size and width (nearly 8m compared to the 747-400’s 6.5m) airlines can have more freedom to design new and interesting cabins or introduce new products that will benefit the passenger.

On the down side for airlines; they will be required to train staff on the operation of the A380 for example cabin crew, this is a cost not usually discussed by Airbus and should be considered by airlines. The A380 will also require more cabin crew to operate under JAA and FAA regulations; one wonders if this cost is included in the operating cost provided by Airbus. Also considering the maintainability of A380; as there are many requirements for maintenance outfits as regards the size of hanger and availability of tall work-stands, they are seriously considering if it will be worth entering the market for A380 maintenance. As a consequence many airlines are deciding to support their A380’s in-house, this could prove to be an expensive matter with investment in new hangers built on expensive land at some of the world’s busiest airports. This somehow contradicts the philosophy of many airlines now trying to concentrate on their “core” business; and out-source that which they believe others can do more cost effectively such as maintenance.


So let’s discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages for those who will fly in her. Public perception is such that flying on an A380 will give passengers more room such as seat and aisle width, although this is true it is very little when looking at the same configurations of an A380 and a 747-400. On seat width the Airbus will give each passenger in a 10 abreast configuration 2 cm more seat width and access to an aisle 1 cm wider. Is this really an advantage? One definite advantage will be increased seat availability on busy routes where A380 is operated, however due to the increase in passengers there could be an increase in boarding time and check-in queue lengths at peak times. This leads to disgruntled passengers; a problem also for the airlines.

Initially it can be expected due to curiosity and the fact that A380 has captured the travelling public’s imagination (similar to that of Concorde in the 1960’s) many will want to travel on her and many will be able to travel on her unlike Concorde. But will the curios public discover A380 to be a unique experience or will the passenger just be a smaller fish in a bigger goldfish bowl?


Some of the key issues for airports are as regards to the size and weight of A380. They are as follows: the effect of its passenger capacity on airport infrastructure at terminals; the effect wing span has on runway and taxiway separations; and the effect of weight on bridges. Currently the 747-400 is able to operate at airports under Code E classification, although Airbus intended A380 to come under this Code, unfortunately for airports and or Airbus it will be under a Code F. A380 falls into this category due to its wing span of 79.75m. To satisfy Code E criterion the wing span must be no more than 65m, the B747-400 remains Code E with a span of 64.44m. Code E requirements affect Aerodromes/Airports wishing to provide services for A380 in that there are new runway requirements. One of which follows:

“A minimum 45m of runway pavement of full load bearing strength shall be provided. ‘Inner’ shoulders of at least 7.5m of pavement of a load bearing strength that will permit occasional A380 aircraft incursion shall be provided. An additional minimum 7.5m of paved ‘outer’ shoulder area that will provide protection from engine jet-blast and ingestion, and support for rescue and fire fighting equipment shall also be provided. The overall width of paved area provided shall be not less than 75m.”2

So airports that currently have a 45m runway must invest in a wider runway to accommodate A380. Those who do not meet the Rescue and Fire Fighting (RFF) requirements must do so. As A380 has a width greater than 6.5m the RFF Aircraft fuselage category of 10 is applied; the impact on airports of this is that they must consider the minimum amount of foam available at the aerodrome. It is expected that in the future the height of an aircraft; or the number of passenger decks will be introduced into classification system. Currently only aircraft length and width are used. All of these modifications require investment by the airport if it wishes to accommodate A380.

One of the biggest problems faced by airports is the boarding and disembarkation of the aircraft due to its two passenger levels. Airports may choose to only board from one level thereby increasing boarding times; this however can be an advantage as the catchment time for passengers to spend money at the airport is increased by the lengthy boarding process. Having so many passengers at the gate will also prove a problem. Airports may also choose to have a two level system thereby incurring extra terminal extension costs. This can be useful however; assuming the upper deck is for premium passengers, airports can separate premium passengers from the economy passengers after security and tailor the airside facilities to their needs. For example lounges and specific shops where premium passengers are more likely to purchase goods or services, in a way discrimination or yield management. As regards disembarkation, due to the possibility of large numbers of passengers arriving at once, one assumes that the immigration system should be optimised or improved to cope with that added demand. It has been estimated that the average cost of restructuring for 30 surveyed airports by ACI is $100 million3.

As a result of investment by airports into supporting A380, airports can also expect to increase their revenue from retail activities due to the increased number of passengers, these passengers also come with out an increase in aircraft movements. This allows airports that have expanded to their maximum aircraft movements to increase passenger numbers.


1. Airbus Industrie Website. On-line at http://www.airbus.com

2. Airbus (pdf).Airbus Flight Operational Commonality in Action.(1994). Airbus, France.

3. Boeing Commercial Aircraft Website. On-line at http://www.boeing.com

4. CAP168: Licensing of Aerodromes.(May 2004). Table 8.1, In: Chapter 8: Rescue and Fire Fighting Service (RFFS), Civil Aviation Authority, Aerodrome Standards, London.

5. NOTAL 2/2003: Requirements for code F facilities and the introduction of A380 aircraft operations.(2003). Civil Aviation Authority, Aerodrome Standards, London.

1 Jacques Rosay, Airbus chief test pilot

2 NOTAL 2/2003.(2003).CAA, London.

3 Airbus: A380 Airport Compatibility.(2001).

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