Airlines, aircraft makers look at Superjumbos again

Post-pandemic travel boom leaves airlines struggling with capacity
2022-08-14
/
/ New Delhi
Airlines, aircraft makers look at Superjumbos again

Emirates Airlines, already largest customer of Airbus A380s, cant have enough of them (Photo: Emirates Airlines)

As most aviation stakeholders, ranging from airlines and airports to aircraft makers, struggle to keep pace with the surging demand for travel after over two years of Covid-19 pandemic, the Superjumbos may be making a rapid return to the skies.
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On Wednesday, struggling aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, delivered a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner to American Airlines, making it the first delivery of a wide-body, long-haul aircraft in over 15 months, marking the revival in demand for large capacity aircraft as global travel demand surges.

The delivery of the Dreamliner was a key signal – both to Boeing as well as the aviation industry per se, that after hiatus in travel and the need for large aircraft due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry is now surging back to the 2019 levels and in some areas even set to overtake it.

It has also sparked a fresh debate on the place for large aircraft in global aviation, especially as it comes after an unprecedentedly long period when most airlines had grounded and cocooned their aircraft since flying was not allowed. So, while the past 30 months saw the airlines switch from widebody planes in favour of the smaller, fuel-saving models, with limited capacity, the slogan in aviation seems to be getting back to the long-time mantra of all businesses, including aviation industry, that bigger is better. Series of media reports over the last month suggest that many airline bosses are now seriously reviewing their fleets and not only dusting their mothballed aircraft to take them back to the skies but are also seeking to buy more of the existing wide-bodies to add to their fleets. In fact, some airline heads are so bullish on the short-to-mid-term future of the aviation industry, that they are asking the aircraft manufacturers – Airbus and Boeing – to go back to the drawing board and come up with new, even bigger but more sustainable aircraft that they would be happy to order upfront.

Take, for instance, the largest aircraft currently in operation, the Airbus A380. After having been totally written off since airlines had stopped using them and even cancelled some undelivered orders, the A380 has staged a huge comeback in the past 12 months. The renewed rising demand for the airplane has made some wonder whether it is time for an even bigger superjumbo. Largest customer of A380s, Emirates Airlines, for one, definitely thinks so. In a recent media interaction, Emirates President Tim Clark said, “The math tells you that you need a big unit, much bigger than we are getting at the moment.”

Clark outlined the reasons behind why he thinks so. Prior to the pandemic, travel was increasing by 4.5 pc each year. Once the world returns to those levels, it would take just 10 to 15 years to see global demand increase by half. And yet, with many A380s set to be phased out by the mid-2030s, there may not be an aircraft up to the job. “Even with multiple 787s and A350s all busy flying around the world, I still don’t get how you will pick up that growth curve,” Clark added. “Supply will be suppressed, demand will continue to grow, and when that happens prices rise, it’s inevitable.”

The bullish sensation seems to be catching up in the industry and beyond the airlines or aircraft makers. “I firmly believe that as borders fully reopen, we will see the same rebound in international travel that we saw in the domestic markets,’’ Aengus Kelly, chief executive of AerCap, the world’s largest leasing firm, told a news agency. “Given the level of inquiry and demand we are seeing for wide-body aircraft, it is clear that the airlines are also convinced of this,’’ he added.

For now, much of the demand is coming from the Middle East and Asia but as the travel resurgence continues analysts believe it will carry over to the airlines in the United States as well.

‘‘What we’re seeing right now is definitely a recovery that’s taking hold in certain international markets,’’ Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice-president of commercial sales and marketing, was cited as saying. ‘‘The transatlantic is live and doing well. You’re seeing very robust demand between Europe and the US and between the Middle East and Europe and U.S. So, folks are sticking their heads above water again and making plans,’’ he added.

Currently, the largest planes in production are the Airbus A350-1000 and upcoming Boeing 777-9, which carry up to 410 and 426 respectively, depending on configuration. However, based on Clark’s calculations, neither aircraft is large enough to truly replace the A380 or meet future demand for air travel. Both are significantly less than the A380’s typical 525.

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