Airbus Superjumbo May See Second Life in Asian Low-Cost Markets

Airbus A380 superjumbos being retired from premium carriers such as Singapore Airlines Ltd. may find a second life plying six- to eight-hour routes for low-cost Asian airlines, the European planemaker predicted.

Singapore Airlines and Emirates, the double-decker’s biggest customers, may return older planes back to leasing companies in the next two to three years, putting them back into the market for second-hand use, said Kiran Rao, director of strategy at Airbus.

Airbus is seeking new sales avenues for its largest model, which has run out of order momentum in recent years as potential customers balk at the size of the aircraft that makes it less flexible on most routes. The A380 could become attractive for those Asian carriers already packing above-average passenger numbers into their jets, Rao said.

Low-cost airlines such as AirAsia Bhd and Cebu Pacific Air of the Philippines have seen rapid traffic expansion from fast-growing middle classes and the easing of visa restrictions, with growing incomes expanding the range of flights taken. Cebu Pacific is already packing 436 seats into six A330s that typically fly 300 to 350 people.

While existing customers for the A380 tend to fly the plane with 500 to 550 passengers, Rao predicted that Asian low-cost carriers buying used A380s would likely reconfigure them for a far denser seating arrangement.

“We could go to about 800,” Rao said on Thursday in Toulouse, where Airbus is based. Still, carriers who purchased the planes from Airbus would more likely fly them in two classes -- business and economy -- with about 600 seats.

Emirates, which has ordered 140 A380s, has said it generally likes to retire planes after 12 years to keep its fleet fresh. The carrier hasn’t said when it will give the first of its A380s back to lessors who have purchased the planes from Emirates. Singapore Air was the first customer to fly the aircraft commercially.

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