Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Airbus Group SE is exploring ways of carving out extra space on its A380 superjumbos in order to boost capacity and enhance margins for operators, among them modifying the staircases that connect the double-decker jet’s two passenger floors.

Feedback from existing A380 customers suggests that curved steps located toward the rear of the world’s biggest jetliner are rarely used since passengers have little need to move between levels, opening up the possibility of making them less of a design feature to create more room. The planes also feature double-width stairs at the front reminiscent of those from on ocean liner.

Re-arranging fixtures and fittings within the A380 could accommodate 60 more customers without reducing the width or pitch of its seats, according to Kiran Rao, Airbus’s director of strategy and marketing. The planemaker is working with clients including Qantas Airways Ltd. to boost per-flight revenue.

Many early A380 operators chose to customize the plane with perks such as showers, found on Emirates aircraft, and lavish duty-free displays, on Korean Airlines Co. While that established the model as a fleet flagship it held back capacity, with Korean offering 409 seats on a plane designed to carry 525.

Narrow-Body Tweaks

Airbus has already added nine berths to the 150-seat A320 short-haul model and 20 to the A321, which previously held 185 people. Measures such as moving lavatories or crew rest areas helped achieve those increases and would work just as well on the A380, Rao said.

The Toulouse, France-based company could bring in another order or two for the A380 this year, most likely from existing clients, the executive said in an interview at an International Air Transport Association gathering in Dublin.

Dubai-based Emirates, the biggest A380 buyer with 140 in service or on order, has already taken steps to increase the capacity of its superjumbo fleet, lifting the seat total from 489 in three classes on its first planes to 517 on later ones and the 615 in a two-class configuration.

Airbus is currently making about 25 A380s a year, versus more than 500 A320s. Even then backlog will start to run out in 2018, though the superjumbo has had some sales success of late, with All Nippon Airways ordering three planes at the end of 2015 and Iran saying in January it wanted 12.

Boosting capacity by repositioning washrooms and stairs may help existing operators but it’s unlikely to do much to entice those carriers -- such as Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. -- that already view the A380 as too large for their fleets, limiting its appeal.

Emirates has been pushing Airbus to commission more powerful turbines for the A380 to create a New Engine Option version or Neo. The planemaker has resisted committing to such a move amid concern that a lack of further buyers could mean the investment would be wasted.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Rothman in Dublin at aerothman@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Reiter at creiter2@bloomberg.net, Christopher Jasper, Benedikt Kammel

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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