The world’s largest passenger jet is set to get even bigger as Airbus says it plans to extend the wing span of the A380.
The double-decker, four-engine aircraft currently boasts a tip-to-tip width of 262 feet but this could soon by grow by as much as 32 feet as the French manufacturer considers the possibility of upgrades to cut drag and boost fuel efficiency by up to four per cent.
Airbus may offer the extensions as an alternative to launching a whole new “neo” model of the aircraft, providing prospective buyers instead with the option of buying an aircraft with new engines and some enhanced design features, as it has with the A320.
“We will not launch an A380neo, there’s no business case now to do that, this is absolutely clear,” said Airbus’s president Fabrice Bregier. “But it doesn’t prevent us from looking at what could be done to improve the performance of the aircraft.
“So having a little bit more efficiency from the engines is clearly an option, and looking at whether we could bring new winglets is also probably a good possibility.”
The A380 was launched in 2007 with Singapore Airlines, but Emirates owns more than any other carrier. British Airways uses the aircraft on a number of its routes, including London to Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and has a dozen more on order. With its standard configuration, the A380 can seat 525 people. The second largest commercial aircraft is the 747-8, belonging to Boeing.
The attraction of extending the wing tip devices on the A380 would be saving the manufacturer from the more expensive introduction of a “neo” model while also creating an option more appealing to airlines. New winglets would not require strengthening of the fuselage-wing junction, said Bregier. A new A380 costs $436.9 million (£343.9m), on average, and is by some way Airbus’s most expensive aircraft.
It will hope that the lure of a more efficient superjumbo will provide a shot in the arm for the A380’s order book, which was particularly quiet in 2016. Though there are some 104 A380s slated to be built, the Toulouse-based manufacturer has intentions to slow its build rate to less than one new jet a month should business fail to pick up.
Last year, rumours in the aviation industry were that Airbus would scrap the A380 altogether, with Forbes putting the aircraft on “death watch”.
While the A380 is the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the title of biggest overall goes to the Antonov An-225. Only one was ever made, in the Soviet Union in 1988, but it remains in service as a cargo aircraft and has a wingspan of 290 feet.