A380's Chinese venture
As the largest and most expensive wide-body passenger aircraft flying in the world's skies today, the Airbus 380 (A380) has attracted widespread attention since its entry into service in 2007.
The double-decker superjumbo jet can hold at most 575 passengers in its four-class configuration and can even host bar, shower and gym facilities onboard for a unique and luxurious passenger experience.
However, the increase of orders was flat over the past decade. The current A380 fleet supports over 300 commercial flights each day, with an A380 aircraft landing or taking off somewhere in the world every two minutes. As of today, more than 120 A380 routes are operated by 13 different airlines.
The Very Large Aircraft (VLA) market demand is around 1,200 aircraft for the next 20 years, of which Airbus is targeting some 50 percent.
As one of the fastest growing aviation markets, China is considered a key battleground by Airbus.
"When I look at the market flow, the passenger flow, route by route and the economics, I'm fully confident that the Chinese carriers will need a minimum of 60 A380s over the next five to seven years," Eric Chen, President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft China, was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
At present, China Southern Airlines is the only Chinese carrier that has introduced this particular aircraft.
Tapping into a major market
When asked which Chinese airlines have shown interest in the A380, Richard Carcaillet, Head of A380 Market Development, refused to give details, but said he has great confidence in Chinese aviation market growth.
"[Aviation] is a growth industry, air traffic has pretty much doubled every 15 years…it is a very concentrated industry where major cities are playing a bigger role. Routes between these cities require larger capacity aircraft and are also congested, usually at both ends. In this context, congestion at the airport level is a particular issue in the Chinese market because air traffic growth is stronger in China," Carcaillet said, adding that air traffic may double every ten years in China from now on.
As for air politics - the agreements between states in terms of services and opening-up of skies - the limits are soon to be reached in terms of the number of flights in Chinese metropolises and the US market. In this sense, larger commercial aircraft like the A380 can support sustainable growth, he said.
As the A380 can support more traffic, the aircraft would be very suitable for international airports in major Chinese cities which could function as global hubs, similar to Dubai's airport, to allow more passengers to connect to a second long-haul destination.
Many A380 operators fly to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in the Chinese mainland as well as to Hong Kong, with almost 50 flights in and out of these destinations on a daily basis, according to Airbus.
Bloomberg reported in July that Airbus has signed an agreement with China to sell 120 A320 aircraft and 40 A350s. "China is one of the most important aviation markets in the world," Airbus CEO Tom Enders noted, adding that both sides are negotiating selling more A380s in the country.
Meanwhile, improvements are being made in domestic airports to accommodate A380 aircraft.
According to a statement on the website of the Civil Aviation Administration of China Central and Southern Regional Administration, Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Central China's Hubei Province has become the tenth airport in China that has enhanced operation capacity, guaranteeing the ability to host A380 flights.
Boosting brand awareness
According to Airbus, the A380 aircraft allows airlines to maximize their revenue potential through an optimized cabin, boosting the aircraft's contribution to profit by up to 65 percent per flight compared to its nearest competitor.
China Southern Airlines said in July 2016 that its A380 achieved profitability in 2015 and will use the A380 for its international long-haul routes to cities such as Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Sydney.
According to China Southern Airlines' website, its A380 fleet flies nine routes, with two routes connecting Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province to Los Angeles and with the other seven connecting major domestic cities on a daily basis.
However, the A380 has difficulty in creating a secondhand market globally, with the first Airbus superjumbo jet recently exiting service without an obvious new owner in sight, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
The aircraft, which entered service in 2007 with launch customer Singapore Airlines, will be stored in a French regional airport "in flight condition" to await a new operator, according to Bloomberg.
But it has to be admitted that as a flagship aircraft, the A380 has become a strong element of airlines' brands. Many A380 operators such as Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and China Southern Airlines have dedicated pages on their websites to the aircraft, explaining which routes their A380s fly as well as related products, seats and services.