Emirates took delivery of their latest A380, A6-EOP, and will be putting it to work from December 1st. This aircraft has 615 seats, 20% more than is typical for the A380. The high density configuration will be deployed to Bangkok, Copenhagen, Kuala Lumpur and eventually Gatwick. No doubt as more get delivered we will see this aircraft configuration in other destinations over their network.
The new configuration has no first class, but has 58 lie-flat seats in Business Class and 557 seats in Economy Class. Given the size of the aircraft, it offers unmatched ability to re-configure the floor plan and extract more revenue. This new configuration offers a vision of the VLA not seen before.
The economics of the new model are interesting, as they further reduce the already competitive A380 seat-mile costs to about 20% below the 777-300ER, and the aircraft remains competitive with the forthcoming 777-9, expected to be 20% better than the 777-300ER on the same metric. By re-configuring its aircraft, Emirates has found a mechanism to grow traffic while retaining industry leading seat-mile economics with the A380. The question, which most airlines ask regarding the A380, is can we fill it? Emirates has demonstrated that if you can fill an A380, it is a substantial generator of profitability.
We have yet to see what the impact will be at airports where more baggage will be handled than on any other flight. In addition, the processing of people through customs and immigration will also be tested. While the new airport in Dubai is state of the art and has the capacity to handle these larger flights, the worry is at the other end of the routes, where A380s are not the norm.
The new configuration for Emirates moves to a two-class rather than four-class configuration, opposite of the current industry trend. As Emirates tests this strategy in certain markets, could it be a harbinger of an overall “simplification” strategy, in which the premium revenue is evaluated against lower seat-mile costs. It will be interesting to watch the results as Emirates implements its new A380 seating configuration, and whether this configuration spreads to other markets.