Airbus Explores A380 Superjumbo Refresher to Help Rekindle Sales

Airbus SAS said it’s starting to explore ways to refresh its flagship A380 to improve performance toward the end of the decade and keep the double-decker plane competitive as newer long-range jets draw customers.

“We really need to think about how we keep the A380 sharp,” Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice president for programs, said in an interview at the Paris Air Show. Newer planes from Boeing Co. and others Airbus itself is building mean the economics of the A380 need further improvement, he said.

Airbus has seen lackluster demand for the A380, with 262 orders for its largest plane since it was given authority to sell. The competitive landscape is getting more difficult as Boeing pushes a new family of wide-bodies, including the 777X update of its best selling twin-engine wide-body due around the end of the decade, while Airbus sales of its A350-1000 outpace superjumbo bookings.

Airbus will also look to engine makers to deliver improvements, Williams said. The A380 is powered either by Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc turbines or ones built by a joint venture between General Electric Co. and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney.

With the plane becoming more common, carriers are starting to increase the seat count on the aircraft that typically has featured fewer than the 525-average that Airbus cites as the norm, Williams said. Airbus has begun talking to airlines about an 11-abreast seat configuration that would add about 40 passengers and is awaiting the first taker, he said.

Airbus is largely focusing on the A380-800, the current version, rather than a stretch, Williams said. Tim Clark, president of Emirates, the world’s largest operator of the superjumbo, has urged the Toulouse, France-based planemaker to build a larger model. Williams said it is not clear there would be much demand beyond the one prospective buyer.