Skip to comments.Airbus' A380 is a huge jet, but lacks 747's glamour
Posted on 04/08/2007 9:40:26 AM PDT by Paleo Conservative
It was 1969 and the airplane designers having lunch in the conference room of Pan American World Airways were standing by the window overlooking New York's Park Avenue when Charles Lindbergh came over. The famous aviator was a consultant to the airline at the time and he had something to say about the 747 Joe Sutter and his team at Boeing were creating for Pan Am.
" 'This is one of the great ones.' " Sutter recounted Lindbergh saying, "I mean the 747, this is an airplane that will go down in history."
Thirty-eight years later, as hundreds of journalists watched the brand new Airbus A380 descend onto runways in the United States for the first time, they were encouraged to compare it with the 747. My advice to Airbus: Don't go there.
There are similarities between the A380 and the 747 of course. Both airplanes have shattered beyond imagination the limits of how much weight can be safely lifted off the ground and flown around the world. And like the 747, the A380 with its $300 million price tag is a high-stakes gamble.
But the A380 cuts a lumbering silhouette with its unrelentingly bulbous fuselage and large vertical stabilizer. Inside, the wide staircase connecting the two seating decks is the only flourish to an otherwise conventional passenger cabin.
In contrast, when the first Boeing 747 entered service in 1970, a domed front that gradually tapered to the tail balanced its historic girth. The 747 also went faster than any previous passenger plane, improved airline economics by reducing the cost-per-seat mile and created a new class of twin-aisle jetliner called the wide-body.
Steve Hatch worked on the 747 as a young aeronautical engineer. On the 30th anniversary of the airplane, he told me about the day the jumbo jet was displayed to the public for the first time. "They were all going to be awed by it, like we were ourselves because it was the greatest undertaking of that time." It was like no other airplane ever produced and it glamorized an entire industry.
That's why it seems foolish for Airbus executives to invite comparison between a portrait of elegant sophistication and the startlingly ordinary, albeit humongous airliner they've produced just because both airplanes broke records for size.
In some ways the A380 is better than the 747. It generously incorporates lighter composite materials. Its jet engines produce more thrust and lift more weight. By minimizing fuel consumption, the A380 gives its operators slight but much appreciated wiggle room in the binding that ties them to oil prices.
Those are the kinds of benefits the accountants appreciate. The intangible factors that turned the 747 into the "Queen of the Sky," while a Lockheed L-1011 is relegated to a footnote in aviation history are harder to understand.
"I don't think anybody really understood the impact that the 747 was going to have." Sutter admitted. "Airline ticket prices dropped 30 percent (because) everybody wanted to fly." Pan Am was the 747's largest customer in the 1970s, taking possession of 21 in the first year. But even Pan Am chairman Juan Tripp thought the airplane would be a short-termer, a 10-year bridge between the jet age and supersonic air travel. Boeing already was working on a commercial SST.
Ironically, the French-British government consortium that produced the Concorde beat Boeing to the goal. The SST plane flew from 1976 until 2003 and was not a financial prize for its makers.
An economically successful supersonic commercial airplane remains aviation's Gordian knot, but the Boeing 747 is still being produced in Everett, with more than 1,500 sold.
"The business was unpredictable back then and it's unpredictable now," says Kevin Darcy, a retired Boeing engineer and private aviation consultant. "It could be that it will be a very wise decision to develop the A380 because the market will go that way. Or maybe not."
Airbus made the decision to build the 800-seat capacity airplane believing the commercial carriers want to carry more people on fewer airplanes on point-to-point long-distance flights. Though none of the A380 launch customers have chosen a passenger cabin fitted anywhere close to that many seats.
Take an airplane 33 percent bigger than a 747 and fill it with just 25 percent more passengers and a slightly more spacious environment will be the result.
This may be enough to win over international air travelers, but in terms of glamour, the A380 is no closer to the 747 than a bedroom slipper is to a Manolo Blahnik designer shoe.
But just when I'm about to conclude that there's little panache in Airbus's ungainly whale of an airship, Robert Ditchey, the now retired founder of America West Airlines, who is also a pilot and aeronautical engineer, waxes lyrical about the plane's nuts and bolts.
"I marvel at the machine that it has such wonderful capabilities it can fly across the Pacific and carry so much weight," he said.
From palm-sized computers to cell phone video cameras, technological marvels have become somewhat routine these days. While revolutionary style can elevate an iPod or a designer sandal to the status of icon.
That's what the 747 has been for decades and the A380, for all its size, will not change that.
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Nothing more than a flying mega-bus.
The 380 must be on every terrorist’s target list. Wait’ll some nutjob flies 800 passengers into a building somewhere.
What else is to be expected from a company that is funded and regulated by a political entity that thinks of the state as glorious, but the people little more than cattle?
stick a fork in europe... it climaxed.
Stick a fork in europe... it climaxed and was shooting blanks.
There is the old adage that suggests that what looks good will fly good, and in this case it appears true, as every A-380 landing I see, comes with a moment of yaw suggesting that the vertical tail loses authority at high alpha conditions. Anyone can watch how much the rudder is working to see that the ILS is working hard to keep it on centerline.
747s and especially 777s are rock solid in all flight aspects, but I think it is a good bet that one of these A-380s is going to have a really bad landing someday and kill a lot of people.
There are partially good landings, those you walk away from and then there are good ones, those that allow you to take off again.
And that will last until the airlines look at their balance sheets and decide that the A380's seating should be set to have 50% more passengers that the 747. Passengers will moo in delight at being shoved into another cattle car in the sky.
The closest I've ever been was one where the pilots decided to hide in the cockpit afterward and let the flight attendents listen to comments about having a fine carrier landing: fast and very hard.
747-400 has to be the prettiest plane flyin IMHO..
I did one of those partiall ones when I totaled my Saraqtoga.
The 747 was made with a vision of making profits for the airplane maker by providing a product that will make money for the buyer.
The a380 was made to hand out the maximum number of jobs across the EU and create public works projects as all airports in the EU are forced to upgrade to take this monster.
Does anyone know if it is still taking up two airplane slots per takeoff landing?
I reckon that the A380 has an extra-wide fuselage. Do you think that there getting more than normal turbulence in the airflow around the tail?
I suppose that will keep the crew busy during approaches in strong or gusty crosswinds.
if you remember, they actually selected flights knowing the plane would be nearly empty, so that it would be easier to deal with the passengers.
In these post-911 days I don’t think it would be feasible to hijack any filled aircraft and live to tell the tale, let alone an A380.
Karl, I think these airlines are trying to figure out ways to fill these planes, and they are obviously worried that they won’t be able to, thus the tactic of not pushing the plane to its highest capacity. I think they’d rather have passengers more comfortable than fly with empty seats, particularly since comfort might be a competitive advantage.
Do you have any numbers on seat mile fuel burn of the A380 as compared to Boeings 787 Dreamliner?
But the passengers that matter most to airlines are flying business or first class anyway. Those seats are just as comfortable on an A330, A340, 787, 777, or 747. Given equal comfort levels, scheduling is more important than the size of the aircraft. Two 787's can carry the same number of passengers as one A380 while carrying over three times the revenue cargo and having more flexibility in scheduling.
Something just doesn't look right here:
Do you have any numbers on seat mile fuel burn of the A380 as compared to Boeings 787 Dreamliner?
Supposedly two 787-10's (the 787-10 hasn't been launched yet) would have slightly more passengers while having lower CASM and more cargo. One 787-10 would have about 1.8 times more revenue cargo than an A380. Having two decks full of passengers with baggage eats into the space available for cargo.
The pilot sure used a lot of rudder on that landing. I see what you mean about yaw on landing.
The Dreamliner blows everything away in terms of seat-mile costs. The A-380 gets its efficiency from stuffing it with people like a cattle car. It really isn't very efficient at all.
WOW... I can only imagine what it looked like from the cockpit.
I think the B-52's can turn up to 15 degrees off center.
That’s why they provide barf bags for the pilots.
I cant wait for the dreamliner to arrive in MIA. What a beautiful plane! Try to get the screensaver from Boeing.com of the dreamliner. Beautiful! I will never, ever set foot on a A380. They might as well just name them Flying Titanics.
I was on a really hard one back in 1988 or and I wont blame it on the pilot it was just one of those things. We were coming into Denver and in that last 50’ or so a huge gust of wind picked the airplane up and then the bottom dropped out. I was like %^$## here it comes! I was seated over the center wing box area and as hard as we hit (KWHAM!!) I knew there was bound to be a few fuel leaks to come out of that later, and maybe some broken fasteners to be found during HMV open up.
Oh I forgot, that was a 727-200 (stretch) airplane we were on.
My favorite plane of all time. It especially looked good in Braniff’s liveries.
I wish they had made it. One of their very top people taught one of my airline mgt courses and I learned more from him and that one course than some multiple (3, 4, 5?) of what other courses were brought to me.
Not for him, but for another course I did a study paper on the topic of age 60 mandatory retirement for Pilots.
I know you career pilot guys wont like my answer, but my conclusion was that while there are exceptions, overall it is correct policy esp when the exponentially raising probability of stroke/heart attack occurring becomes a factor.
I knew I used to carry a ziplock bag in the top part of my Gsuit when I was doing flight school. The only thing that could shake up my stomach like nothing out was spinning the airplane.
I believe the 747 gear also compensates.
Scheduling problems as you describe are probably why the A380 has had such dismal sales.
All passengers have some importance for an airline, or we’d see all first class airlines. I think we actually have but as I recall they haven’t done too well, which actually is a bit surprising to me.
I really appreciated EVA Air’s Evergreen Deluxe class, which is about $200 more than tourist class and gives you business class seats but only slightly over tourist class amenities. It made my flight to the Philippines via Taipei, Taiwan a great deal more pleasant, even though only the long LAX to Taipei flight is formally Deluxe Class(*).
I wish more airlines would do something like that. If the A380 was designed with that type of service in mind, I’d probably cheer it on — but from what I’ve seen it looks like EVA Air with its Boeing 747s is more innovative than Airbus in this regard.
You would think EVA would love the A380 since they run two flights with 747s from LAX to Taipei that leave within about an hour or two of each other, but I haven’t seen them in reference to the A380 at all.
(*) As an interesting sidebar, the Taipei, Taiwan airport is one of the most inhospitable airports I have ever visited despite being sleek, ultra-modern and conspicuously expensive in design and construction. A gleaming, shiny, conspicuously efficient looking bottled water vending machine that appeared to accept no known currency, even currency it claimed to like, was just one of the ugly surprises.
Can it run out of fuel at its upper altitude and still survive like the “Gimli Glider”?
True, but the routing and timing of nonstop flights is driven by sales of premium seats. Economy seats get sold to at whatever the market will bear to fill up seats. At the margin someone in San Antonio can get tickets to London at the same price whether making a longer connecting flight but shorter transatlantic flight at IAD or JFK or a shorter connecting flight but longer transatlantic flight at DFW, IAH, or ATL. KLM actually charters an all business class 737 BBJ between IAH and AMS just so they can have an additional business class departure time without hauling around any more cheap seats. All the economy seats on KLM are put on a daily 747-400M which is a combi passenger/freighter derivative.
As a follow-up question on this ... why is it that First Class fares provide about double (or maybe even 1.5x) the seating space for about 5-7 times the cost?
Why can’t First Class be sold at less outrageous prices?
I’d love to have a more comfortable flight if the cost could be brought a bit further down to earth.
I guess the short answer is that there is a large enough population that would pay just about anything to avoid the cattle car. But I’d be curious to know more details on how the fares are determined.
(It is interesting to note that First Class fares are approximately the same as the cost of one seat on a filled-up Gulfstream V, and that may be no coincidence.)
EVA Deluxe class is a welcome relief for the long haul traveler. Also North Wests’ Business World Class(something like that) offers larger seats w/cocoon like almost flat reclining. I just did Taipei to Detroit 2x’s last week and it was very much welcomed.
Also Singapores’ Business class makes the trip much easier. If you fly that route much consider joing their Kriss Club.
Absolutely, wake turbulence is so extreme they have to double space them and this is the real reason the Toulousse Goose will fail.
Maybe what they need is a large auxiliary vert stab that folds down from the nose with the forward gear during landing.
Or possibly yaw control thrusters. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Why can’t First Class be sold at less outrageous prices?
They're bundled with other amenities. The extra space and better seating allows passengers to arrive in a condition where they are able to work after getting off a long flight. Being at the front of planes first and business class passengers are the first to exit the aircraft which can be important for making tight connections between flights. The luggage for premium passengers may also be put on the baggage claim ahead of other passengers baggage allowing them to take less time to leave the airport after a flight. The tickets are much more flexible. A discounted economy ticket usually can't be changed without paying an addtional fee. They're also not refundable. Large companies often negotiate discounts on business and first class fares that aren't available to individual consumers. They do have the flexibility to change flights and get refunds without incurring penalties. Airlines are just exploiting differences in elasticity of demand to extract as much revenue as possible from customers.
I think you're correct about the pricing of first class tickets. If they were priced higher, it would be cheaper and more flexible to charter business jets. The availability of multiple flights per day between destinations discourages companies from chartering business jets on heavily travelled routes. Multiple flights per day between a pare of cities cause airlines to decrease the size of the planes they buy. Rather than one 747 per day on a route, an airline might prefer to fly two or more 767's.
“....the width, especially at the rear wing roots, disrupts airflow to the stab at approach angles, ruining directional stability.”
Watched the A380’s crosswind landing films, and from the looks of the wingrock on final, you may have a point there.
Also, if that set of configurations is typical of the breed, how would that relate to the Aerobus crash in New York that was blamed on rudder/vert stabilizer failure?
I’m wondering about too much yankin’ and crankin’ on the rudder during landings causing accelerated fatigue........with nothing but a couple of videocam shots and a load of WAG to generate all this stuff, I know. (Ducking my punkin head and running for cover.)