Airbus hopes to erase failure of its 'White Elephant'

 Airbus hopes to erase failure of its 'White Elephant'

A330 at Aero India. DH photo

Airbus brought its newest domestic airliner, the A330neo to Aero India 2019 in an effort to rebound from the failure of its flagship, the wide-body A380 which has suffered flagging sales, leading to the termination of the project earlier this month.

Stefan Schaffrath, Airbus’ Vice-President of Media Relations, explained that the A380, which, with a length of 72.27 meters, a wingspan of nearly 80 meters and a maximum seating capacity of 868 people is the world’s largest passenger aircraft, was designed as a solution to airport congestion. “Look, we have countries where airports are no longer able to keep up with the sheer volume of passenger aircraft. London is one example, where there is such resistance by locals to expanding Heathrow airport that the authorities there are looking for a solution to accommodate a large number of passengers while keeping the numbers of aircraft arriving and departing at sustainable levels. There is also the fact that having many aircraft at an airport also means a proportional increase in noise pollution.”

Charges that the A380 is less fuel-efficient than its Boeing rivals apparently hit Airbus hard for it went to length to explain the new efficiency features of the A330neo. Joost van der Heijden, Airbus’ Vice-President of Marketing Asia and North Africa said that the aircraft “offers 25 per cent better fuel efficiency than a comparable Boeing 777, a quieter engine, a 15% increase in cabin space from the Boeing 787 and an unprecedented 99.5% reliability figure.”

To these figures, Scott Wilkins, a Senior Analyst at Airbus added one more: “In comparison to other passenger aircraft of its category, the A330neo saves nearly 6,000 kgs of fuel on every flight — which if, you think about it, is a staggering achievement, and which means that the aircraft is good for the environment, and viable in the face of climate change.”

For Aero India 2019, Airbus’ had brought the latest iteration of the neo, the A330-900, which it hopes to sell in numbers to Indian airlines. “We already have over 400 Airbus A320s serving with Indian carriers, not to mention 150 A321s, which are the largest single-aisle passenger aircraft flying in the world today, serving with IndiGo Airlines,” van der Heijden said, adding that Airbus hope to build on this success with the A330, which shares nearly 70 per cent commonality in parts and features with other Airbus aircraft, which means that pilots already certified for other Airbus aircraft can transition into the neo with just a week of training.

Despite this optimism, however, Airbus executives and staff were visibly uncomfortable when asked about the A380. Schaffrath pointed out that despite the negative publicity surrounding what some commentators have described as Airbus’ “White Elephant,” that fifty A380 connections are made every day to London and that despite the termination of the programme, British Airways and Air France have showed interest in the aircraft, primarily in an effort to reduce congestion at airports.

“We made the A380 because there was a market for it,” Schaffrath said. “The A380 project is now dead, but we will support the fleet which is still flying. In the future, if there is once again a market for wide-body aircraft, we will once again manufacture such aircraft. But for the time being, the A380 can be seen as being ahead of its time. It was probably 10 years too early.”