Airport congestion is coming to an airport near you. The A380, as at London Heathrow, may be the solution for peak period operations. The question is how congested must airports become before airlines are forced to move to very large aircraft such as the A380 at airports other than Heathrow?

London’s Heathrow Airport just released its operational figures for 2016, and 10% of all travelers through LHR arrived or departed on an A380, an increase from 8% in 2015 and 6% in 2014.  A380s are expected to carry 12% of LHR traffic this year (2017), and if the trend continues, will carry 20% of Heathrow traffic by 2021.

Nine airlines currently fly the A380 to LHR, including BA, Emirates, Etihad, Korean, Malaysia, Qantas, Qatar, Singapore and Thai. That’s nine out of 13 A380 operators. On a busy morning at LHR, the A380 seems to be becoming almost as ubiquitous as its predecessor, the 747-400.

John Leahy, Airbus COO-Customers, noted that increasing traffic through mega-cities will create a for the A380. “Air traffic doubles every 15 years, and 90 percent of long-haul passengers are traveling through 55 hub cities around the world. The A380 is the best aircraft to capture peak demand while also relieving airport congestion.”

Increasing passenger volume is also occurring in other A380 markets, including New York JFK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Los Angeles. Two hundred A380s have been delivered to date to 13 airlines.

With airline traffic doubling by 2030, airport construction and infrastructure will not keep up with demand, particularly in urban areas, without adequate space for new airport facilities. Maximizing throughput will require better use of the existing airport footprints, and larger aircraft will be one result at hubs.

For the A380, which has not been selling well, increased congestion can’t come fast enough. Airbus has announced a reduction in its production rate to one per month. While Emirates has found the aircraft extremely successful in its hub and spoke operations, other carriers have not emulated that strategy, and no US airline currently flies the A380.

We believe that the A380 will become more successful as congestion increases over the next decade, but will need improvements to retain its competitiveness with new technology smaller aircraft such as the A350 and 777X that will offer similar seat-mile with lower risk for airlines concerned about seasonality in traffic.

The Bottom Line:
Don’t write off the A380 as dead quite yet. The airplane was simply a decade ahead of its time. Will this turn around quickly?  Likely not – but the need will arise over the next decade for more super-jumbos.

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