Airbus Pledges New Engines and Stretch ‘One Day’ for Ailing A380

Airbus Group NV sought to dispel concern that it may ditch the flagship A380, saying it expects to go ahead with plans to give the superjumbo more efficient engines or even build an ultra-high-capacity stretch version.

Fabrice Bregier, who leads the company’s airliner unit, told investors that upgrades of the A380 are just a matter of time, a day after the parent group’s finance chief raised the prospect of discontinuing the plane as soon as 2018.

While Airbus needs to convince potential customers that the upside to the double-decker outweighs its challenges and must make a sound business case for any enhancements, development of a re-engined version as well as a stretch variant will happen “one day,” Bregier said during the briefing in London, asking “where is the problem with the A380?”

Airbus has been struggling to generate enthusiasm for the world’s biggest passenger plane, which has been in service for less than a decade and has so far failed to win a new airline customer this year. Bregier said that the A380 program is under control and will progress, though there is “no urgency.”

While Airbus will break even on the superjumbo in 2015, 2016 and 2017, that outlook doesn’t hold for 2018, forcing the company to either commit to upgrades or discontinue the program, Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm said yesterday.

Clark Meeting

The A380 is meant to carry around 550 passengers though many airlines have configured it for 500 or fewer, leaving Airbus pushing them to consider denser, more profitable layout. The existing plane could carry about 850 passengers in a single class, while a stretch achieved by adding a new section to the fuselage could carry a maximum of about 1,000 people.

Airbus sales head and chief operating officer John Leahy told investors at the gathering that he met with Tim Clark, president of No. 1 A380 buyer Emirates, at the weekend in Dubai, and that they discussed a Neo variant for the A380.

Clark reiterated that he would add to the carrier’s 140 orders for the plane in the event of an engine upgrade, Leahy said, while arguing that the jet is already very efficient.

Leahy said that travel trends will develop in the A380s favor in coming years, with the development of 71 so-called mega-cities that without recourse to bigger planes would require a doubling in the number of total flights.

“This is a market that has to grow, by definition it has to grow,” Leahy said. “The A380 will dominate the market in years to come.”

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