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The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest commercial jet, and has now been flying with airlines for ten years. If you’ve ever flown one, you know it’s an incredible plane, not only for its size, but also in its passenger comfort.

The superjumbo, known as “The Whalejet” by aviation geeks, has brought on some of the most innovative and luxurious designs ever found on commercial planes. For example, Emirates was the first to install showers aboard its A380s for first-class passengers. Etihad installed a super-size suite, knows as The Residence, and most, if not all A380 operators have some form of walk-up lounge or bar for their premium passengers.

Airbus A380 Cabin Enablers. Image courtesy Airbus
Airbus A380 cabin enablers. Image courtesy of Airbus.

At this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, Airbus announced some conceptual design changes called “cabin enablers” that would allow carriers to fit up to 80 more seats inside the Whalejet. The biggest and most noticeable change would be the removal of the wide Grand Staircase at the very front of the cabin. The forward staircase would be moved farther back into the cabin and replaced by a more compact staircase like the one you’d find on a Boeing 747, where you walk up halfway, turn and then walk up the rest of the way.

Airbus is calling this version of the A380 “NFS,” for New Forward Stairs. Dr. Kiran Rao, EVP of Strategy and Marketing at Airbus Commercial Aircraft, said, “Continuous improvement of our products is our daily work. This new package for our A380 customers is a smart way to meet airline needs while improving the A380 economics with additional revenues and innovating in passenger comfort.”

Dr. Rao added, “Only the A380 has the economies of scale and development potential to efficiently solve the problem of increasing congestion at large airports while providing the best comfort for passengers. The aircraft can also serve fast growing markets and airlines regional airports, so we are adapting the aircraft to meet evolving market needs.”

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The new Airbus A380 forward staircase, as seen at the Aircraft Interiors Expo.

Airbus is also offering 11-abreast seating in the economy section of the A380, in a 3-5-3 configuration. It has managed to keep the same 18 inch-wide seats by narrowing the aisles to 17 inches, and removing storage along the sidewalls of the aircraft. “We stay with all of the same comfort elements that the A380 is proud of,” said Ingo Wuggetzer, VP of Cabin Marketing. “Greatest ambience, greatest space for business. All that is continued as we optimize monuments. We add about 25 square meters (269 square feet) of space of the aircraft that you can use for those additional seats.”

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Airbus originally had grandiose plans for even larger A380 versions, but couldn’t find enough airline customers to make the development cost worthwhile. Even the current version — the A380-800 — is struggling to find new orders. There are only 107 A380s left in Airbus’ order backlog, and many think the program may be on its last legs. There just aren’t many airlines who desire a four-engined high-capacity plane these days. Boeing has faced the same struggle with its venerable 747. The A380 is also limited by the number of airports that can accommodate a plane of such size.

Qatar A380
Qatar Airways Airbus A380, at the 2015 Dubai Air Show. Image by the author.

The A380 can be found flying with many of the world’s largest and best-known airlines, including Air France, British Airways, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways. No US-based airlines fly the A380. Emirates has by far the largest A380 fleet in the world, having taken delivery of 94 of the 210 delivered so far. Some of Emirates’ A380s hold up to 615 passengers, with 557 economy seats and 58 business-class seats. The average A380 currently holds about 497 seats in a standard three-class configuration.

Would you consider flying in 3-5-3 economy?

Featured image courtesy of the author.

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