(CNN) — The A380 super jumbo has many supporters around the world, but none are as vocal and powerful as Tim Clark, the president of Emirates, by far the largest operator of the aircraft.
The Dubai-based airline bought nearly half of all A380s ever produced and now has 118 in its fleet, of which about 80 are currently flying.
The entire fleet will be back in the air by spring next year, as part of a resurgence that saw the super jumbo re-commissioned by many of its operators after the pandemic led many to believe it was ready to retire. to go.
“The idea that the A380 was a spent power was always a little hard for us to swallow,” Clark told CNN Travel in an exclusive interview.
“I chuckled to myself and thought ‘just wait’. We started flying six times a day from the A380 to Heathrow in October last year, and we have not yet [free] seat on one of them since.”
The airline will begin sprucing up the interiors of nearly 70 of its A380s later this year and adding a new premium economy class that will slightly reduce passenger capacity from 519 to 484.
Shower Spa Experience
The Emirates A380 is equipped with a shower spa for first class passengers.
The most distinguishing feature of Emirates’ super jumbo, however, remains the legendary shower spa, offering first-class passengers the luxury of a full-fledged shower at 35,000 feet.
There are two such suites, at the front of the upper deck, and Emirates is the only airline to offer them, after Clark explicitly requested this during the final design phase of the aircraft, in the early 2000s.
“Airbus had come up with a rather sad possibility of putting sofas there and having little lounges, but the idea of having bathrooms with showers and all the other bits and pieces was interesting,” he says.
“It was a bit of a risk for us, but these were blind spots that we couldn’t monetize. I realized they would actually be hugely popular.”
However, convincing Airbus to install them was not easy.
“We designed the showers and then went to Airbus, who had a lot of arms folded at the time,” adds Clark.
“But before the launch of the A380, the marketing program was double-paged with avenues of shops, lounges and cafes, so of course I said, ‘That shouldn’t be a problem for you.’
“It was obvious, but because we were such a big buyer, they complied. And it’s no easy feat trying to get water on two decks, keep the pressure up, the heating and all that.
“But we did it, they worked with us and the rest is history. These showers were talked about for years and they still are.”
A new A380?
Emirates’ entire A380 fleet will be back in the air in spring 2023.
Clark has long complained that neither Airbus nor Boeing plan to build a new aircraft the size of the A380.
Currently, the largest aircraft offered by the two leading manufacturers are the Airbus A350-1000 and the forthcoming 777-9, both of which can accommodate just over 400 people in a standard configuration.
However, deliveries of these aircraft have been delayed and Clark believes they are too small to replace the A380 in Emirates’ fleet.
“The math tells you you need a big unit, much bigger than we’re getting right now,” he says.
“The largest will be the 777-9 when it comes to market, which will be in our configuration [will seat] 364 people against 484 on the A380s with our new premium economy. And it was 519 before, so you know where I’m coming from.”
The “math” Clark refers to comes from the demand for air travel, which he says grew at about 4.5% a year before the pandemic.
Assuming that curve is recaptured, it would only take 10 to 15 years to see demand increase by half.
“Even with multiple 787s and A350s all busy flying around the world, I still don’t understand how you can pick up that growth curve,” says Clark.
“Supply will be suppressed, demand will continue to grow and when that happens, prices will rise, that is inevitable.
“If you take the A380s out of the frame in the mid-1930s, how are you going to make that work? Will we see massive airport upgrades or new airports?
“At Heathrow they can’t agree on the third runway. [Amsterdam’s] Schiphol has just reduced the number of landings and take-offs allowed. So, you wonder, how would this demand be met?”
‘Open fan’ motor
Clark’s answer is a new plane as big as the A380, if not bigger, with modern features like lightweight composite materials and more efficient engines.
“Is it possible to redesign a new A380? Yes. Is it possible to make the aircraft lighter? Yes. When they brought this aircraft to market, composites weren’t real [widespread]Clark says.
“Imagine a composite wing and a predominantly composite fuselage. Imagine engines that give you a 20 to 25% improvement over what you get today.
“So you get a lighter aircraft, much more fuel efficient, that meets all the requirements as far as the environmentalists are concerned.”
One of the biggest drawbacks of the A380 is its four engines, which are inefficient by today’s standards and fuel prices. A new version would require an entirely new engine technology.
Clark says there are “very interesting studies” underway in this area, but he adds that most of the research over the past 20 years has focused on narrow-body aircraft.
An “open fan” engine, which resembles a propeller but is actually a larger, non-conductive version of the fan in any modern jet engine, is one of the most promising new engine types and could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 20%.
It will be tested on an A380 test aircraft.
It’s not meant for the plane, though: brand new planes have to be designed to fit these engines, and at least in the beginning they’ll most likely be single-aisle planes, similar to the 737 and A320.
“We’re also trying to get everyone to work on the big fans for the bigger planes,” he says.
“If you can get them to do what I think they could do in terms of fuel efficiency and power, then you have the makings of an aircraft that will improve the economy of the [twin-engine aircraft] that we see today, with quite a long way.”
The problem with this plan is that, just as the A380 was unpopular with airlines, a similarly sized successor probably wouldn’t be.
“Do I think airlines will step up and sign up for this project? Questionable at this stage,” Clark says.
“On the one hand I really want to look at this, on the other hand I am not optimistic that the stakeholders in the ecosystem are ready.
Looking to the future
The Airbus A350-1000 is one of the largest aircraft on offer today.
“The airline industry is, quite rightly, populated with people who are conservative in nature because they’ve lost their shirts – this has been a seriously bad time for air travel.
“But now it’s starting to look a lot better, the demand is back. So they have the ability to think carefully about the future.
“Whether they’re into it, I don’t know. I know we have it.’
Geoff Van Klaveren, aviation analyst and managing director of advisory at independent aviation consultancy IBA, agrees with Clark that there is a need for a larger aircraft, but also that getting one won’t be easy.
“There is certainly room for a Boeing 747 replacement, but I don’t believe there is enough demand to start a program for an aircraft larger than the A380.
“A very large aircraft is key to Emirates’ business model as 70% of their passengers connect on other flights, but I don’t think Airbus or Boeing will build one for them,” he says, adding that the most likely The outcome is that even larger, higher-capacity variants of the A350 and 777 will be made instead.
However, Clark will not be moved.
“I’ve spoken to Airbus more than once,” he says. “I think they’re starting to take it a bit more seriously, but right now they’re focusing on their single-aisle planes and the A350 line.
“I guess people like [Airbus CEO] Guillaume Faury would very much like to see such a thing and recognize what I might call the commercial necessity for it.
“But he’s very much a technologist and will only do what his engineers and the technology allow him to do.”
Looking at the post-pandemic travel chaos leading to canceled flights, endless security lines and piles of lost luggage, Clark isn’t overly optimistic.
“I think you’ll see a continuation of this until the summer of next year,” he says.
“We are far from out of the woods. And as more markets like China, Japan and Korea open up, they will worsen the problem unless Heathrow, Frankfurt and Amsterdam get their act together and people start in their places.”
The Emirates boss says he is surprised at the resilience of the traveling public to endure all this, but they will have to be patient for a while.
“I see strong demand for next year,” he adds. “It’s a patchy one, but my instinct tells me that in a year’s time the airline industry will be fine and things will gradually be fine as we get back into balance — mid next year or late next year.”