Thursday, January 20, 2005

On the Airbus

John Quiggin, as an economist, find the recent development of the Airbus A380 quite interesting. His article is worth reading:

The unveiling of the Airbus A380 raises a couple of thoughts (not entirely new ones, and pointing in somewhat different directions). First, this is another example of the US loss of dominance in manufacturing. Boeing has ceded the jumbo jet market it created with the 747 to Airbus, betting everything on the proposition that airlines will want medium size planes like its forthcoming 7E7. Even if this turns out to be true (and limp early orders don’t support the idea) Airbus has an entrant in this market as well (the A350). Meanwhile, by abandoning the 717 (the old DC 9 inherited in the merger with MacDonnell Douglas), Boeing has abandoned the small jet market, the winner here being the Brazilian fimr Embraer. All of this parallels Detroit’s loss of dominance in the car market. And all this despite the big decline in the dollar-euro exchange rate. This suggests that winding down the US trade deficit is going to be a painful process.

However, what interests me is whether the Airbus is more comfortable - say, than the Boeing 747. Most economy sections fit  10 passengers into a row (in the 3 + aisle + 4 + aisle + 3 configurations). This allows more passengers on the vehicles, but the result is not the most comfortable, especially if you are tall or overweight. Such cramped conditions leave you more susceptible to thrombosis. Then there's the business of unlatching the food tray without spilling your orange juice on someone else's lap. And what's the pecking order on the armrests, anyway? Stop hogging it! In such circumstances, I spend more time going to the toilet than usual. It's not that I need to go. It just gives me an excuse to stretch my legs.

Now the A380 looks like it could be more comfortable. Two levels? Woo-hoo! From Wikipedia:

The Airbus A380 manufactured by Airbus S.A.S. is a double-decker, four engined airliner capable of flying 850 passengers in a high density format or 555 passengers in a typical three-class configuration. The aircraft is scheduled to commence flight tests in March 2005 with deliveries to start in 2006.

Not so fast. Skim to the end of the article:

Initial publicity, particularly from the airlines which have ordered it, has stressed the ability of the A380 to provide increased room and comfort, with open space areas to be used as relaxation space, bars, duty free shops, and the like. Historically, the same type of prediction has always been made when a new, larger aircraft is announced—the 747 is an obvious example—but the economics of airline operation are such that the extra space is nearly always used for additional seating. (One exception to this rule is Virgin Atlantic, which has a bar in Business Class on most of its newer airliners and has announced plans to include casinos on their A380 models.) Given the history of the air transport industry to date, the key change that the A380 will bring to travellers is not extra comfort or lavish in-flight facilities, but more of the same difference that the 747 made—more seats and lower seat-distance costs. It should however be noted that, at 555 passengers, the A380 represents a 35 percent capacity increase over the 747-400 in standard three-class configuration, while the aircraft has almost 50 percent more actual space in the cabin. This should at the very least translate into a more spacious economy class, something which will be well received by the travelling public; however, aviation economics may see this be either a hypothetical or at least short-lived configuration.

Meet the new sardine can. Same as the old sardine can.