It’s been a rough few months for the Airbus A380 – new orders are seeming increasingly hard to come by, with most airlines content to sit on their current modest fleet of 10-20 frames to serve their trunk or prestige routes. Apart from Emirates, that already flies the world’s largest A380 fleet by some margin and somewhere near to 60 more to come, most airlines have been conservative in their approach with the ultra-large aircraft. And even amongst the current operators, airlines have had varying degrees of success with the plane – for some, it has served them well, for others, it’s the perfect niche aircraft, whereas for others it’s been nothing short of a disaster (ahem…Malaysia Airlines).
While the current model of the A380 is already about 25% more efficient than the first ones delivered, the development of a next generation version of an even more efficient aircraft is high on Airbus’ list – but they are lacking one crucial part of the equation before they invest heavily in the project: demand. Even Middle Eastern airlines such as Qatar Airways and Etihad have only taken token deliveries of the aircraft, in the 5-10 range (and let’s face it, they did it as a vanity project and to at least match Emirates in being an A380 operator). Even the Japanese carriers, ANA and JAL, long time users of the heavy density 747s for domestic routes, have shied away from the A380 (though ANA looks likely to now order).
So it was vital that Airbus curried the favors of their current operators – Emirates is obviously their most important client with over 120 either in the air on the order book, but Singapore Airlines (SQ) was the first – and they have been ominously quiet about their commitment to renew their A380 fleet (some of them are now almost 10 years old, which is…old for SQ).
Finally, Singapore Airlines has reaffirmed their faith in the A380 and while they will never operate a fleet size close to that of Emirates, it bodes very well for Airbus that they have indicated that they intend to continue operations and renew A380 orders.
Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong indicated that there was a continued need for the aircraft at a recent press conference at Airbus headquarters in Tolouse, France:
Singapore Airlines has emphasised that it remains committed to the Airbus A380 despite a decision not to extend the lease on its earliest aircraft.
The airline is still deciding on the future of other A380 leases.
Its first A380, MSN3, is one of five early airframes leased by the carrier, all of which were among the first 10 A380s produced.
Speaking in Toulouse as the carrier accepted its latest A350-900, Singapore Airlines chief Goh Choon Phong said the airline “continued to see a role” for A380s, particularly on high-demand routes to slot-constrained airports.
It’s also important to note that the reason Goh was there to begin with was to accept more brand new A350 aircraft and sign a commitment to more – so the relationship between manufacturer and airline remains strong.
But why is this important to you, the passenger?
Well, a multitude of reasons. On the long haul fleet the A380 has the most premium seats in Business Class by a large margin in comparison to any other aircraft in Singapore Airlines’ fleet:
Singapore Airlines A380: 86 seats (at 55 inch pitch)
Singapore Airlines B777: 48 seats (at 55 inch pitch)
Singapore Airlines A359: 42 seats (at 60 inch pitch)
Singapore Airlines A330: 30 seats (at 60 inch pitch)
So this is relevant for one very important factor – redemption, redemption, redemption. More seats means more award availability and this is important for Star Alliance elites especially given how stingy SQ tends to be with how much award space they release. And given the choice of flying SQ or United to make use of your soon to expire miles, the choice is as obvious as the sky is blue.
Then there’s the other factor – First Class. Neither the SQ A330 or A359 have a First Class cabin, while select 777s do, the A380 features SQ’s flagship product, Suites, which they market as a ‘class beyond First’. For those of us who yearn to try the product one day, we’d hate to see it go if the A380 were to be retired from Singapore Airlines. And whilst there’s a marked premium to be paid for Suites, the A380 actually offers more Suites – 12 fully enclosed seats vs. 8 open seats on the 777.
And from a brand marketing standpoint, it’s important for SQ to maintain a lavish First Class product to stay in the same league as the top of the top airlines of the world, an arena which SQ has traditionally resided in. And let’s face it, Singapore is one of the most high yielding destinations in the world, so there is demand for First Class.
So to those fliers who want to make productive use of their United miles, the SQ A380 is a great thing and long (seemingly) may it continue. Would you go out of your way to fly on a Singapore Airlines A380?