Airbus Looks at A380 Operating Boost With Winglets, Seats

Airbus SAS may add winglets to the A380 to improve fuel efficiency and work with customers to pack more people onto the super-jumbo without sacrificing comfort in a bid to boost the profitability of flying the airliner.

Airbus could fit as many as 50 more passengers in an A380 by optimizing the configuration that many operators have chosen, John Leahy, the planemaker’s chief salesman, said in an interview at the Dubai Air Show. Additionally offering 11-abreast seating in economy class on the plane’s main deck, instead of the standard rows of 10, would add capacity for 30 extra travelers, he said.

The European manufacturer is trying to rekindle demand for the A380 among airlines outside the Middle East, where the double-decker remains popular. The push comes after Deutsche Lufthansa AG canceled orders for three A380s and Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s biggest airline, signaled it may drop two commitments.

Small upgrades to the A380, which is configured for an average 525 seats, will improve the economics of the super-jumbo without requiring a costly update, Leahy said.

‘Low-Hanging Fruit’

“We are not about to spend $1 billion to take 2 tons out of the plane,” he said. “The airplane works very well,” even if some customers get “carried away” as they filled the vast space provided by the cabin. Such changes are “low hanging fruit” to improve the A380’s operating performance.

Equipping the A380 with winglets, devices fixed at the ends of wings that add surface to improve lift, may yield about a 3 percent reduction in fuel use, Leahy said. The estimate is based on winglets’ performance on Toulouse, France-based Airbus’s smaller A320, he said.

Engine makers will deliver the bulk of efficiency gains in future, Leahy said. The Engine Alliance joint venture of General Electric Co. and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney said today that it’s looking at options for an update to the powerplant offered for the A380. Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc offers a competing engine.