Airbus’s Longest Aircraft Gets More Seats to Rebuild Value

Airbus SAS plans to lift the seat count on the A340 wide-body jet and cut maintenance costs in an effort to prop up the market value for its longest aircraft, which went out of production two years ago after slack sales.

The plan, which needs approval from regulators, would see the seat count on the twin-aisle A340-600 go to 475 from 440, according to a presentation by Airbus and engine makers in London yesterday to A340 owners. Service costs on the four-engine jet would fall to the equivalent of two powerplants to improve its economics.

Airbus stopped building the plane in November 2011 after customers picked up more fuel-efficient two-engine models such as Boeing Co.’s 777 and the shorter Airbus A330. Adding more seats would underpin Airbus’s efforts to bolster the A340’s value in the secondary market as operators renew their fleets.

“This will revolutionize A340 economics,” Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy said in a e-mail following the presentation, where engine makers Rolls Royce Holdings Plc and CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA, also spoke to a group of about 100 people with an interest in A340 values.

More Revenue

The high-density version would involve only economy seats and strip out some galley space, limiting food service, to allow for an eight-abreast layout that would offer 18-inch seat widths, Andreas Hermann, vice president for freighters and A340 asset management, said today in a briefing with journalists.

The A340-600 can seat 359 in a two-class layout. Airlines seeking to maintain some premium seats could put eight in business class and still achieve the 475 count by putting nine abreast in economy, at 17-inch seat widths. Such a configuration would run counter to Airbus’s latest push to equip long-haul planes with economy seats measuring 18 inches.

The 8 percent increase in capacity would translate to a potential $5.5 million in extra revenue per year, according to the presentation at the London gathering, which sought to assure A340 customers of the residual value of their asset. Airbus didn’t immediately provide any figures on how many A340s were sold with residual value guarantees, or at what price.

Shrinking Demand

The extra seat count would bring the A340 close to the capacity of the largest four-engine aircraft, the Boeing 747 jumbo and the A380 double decker. A handful of airlines have also boosted jet capacity, and operating economics, by cramming large numbers of economy seats onto existing air frames.

Air Canada squeezes 458 people into its Boeing 777-300ERs with 10-abreast seating in its economy cabin. Japan Airlines Co. seats 500 in its 777-300s, used primarily for domestic flights. The Japanese carrier used to seat 546 people on its Boeing 747-400D fleet, which it has retired.

Demand for the A340 shrank after large twin-engine models like Boeing’s 777 won regulatory approval for the long over-water flights that were once the domain of four-engine planes. Airbus built 377 A340s, of which 359 remained in operation at the end of October.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second largest carrier, is the biggest operator of the A340, with 48 still in service. The German airline said it plans to fly the aircraft for some time, and that the residual value is irrelevant for the airline.

CFM makes the turbines for the A340-300 with Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc the sole powerplant provider for larger the A340-500 and -600 models.

Engine Costs

Rolls-Royce will ease the terms of long-term maintenance agreements it calls TotalCare to better suit second-hand operators, Hermann told journalists today. Leased engines may also be provided, the London-based company said yesterday. Rolls-Royce operates a small turbine leasing unit.

“Rolls-Royce have been criticized in the marketplace” for the high pricing of its maintenance packages, Hermann said today. Now, he said, “they’re listening to airlines and owners, to actually change what needs to be changed. We’re confident Rolls will deliver on their commitments.”

Airbus itself owns 16 used A340s that it’s seeking to resell, Hermann said, adding that the planemaker expects a solution soon. Most the aircraft were previously flown by Singapore Airlines Ltd. and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.

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