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Abu Dhabi 2019 | AEROSPACE & DEFENSE | FOCUS: AIRBUS A380

The A380 continues to impress, with Etihad and the UAE continuing to keep the faith with new routes from the capital heading to Europe.

The Airbus-UAE relationship marked its 10th Anniversary this year. The depth and importance of the Airbus-UAE relationship is evident from the fact that Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines, two of the UAE's and the world's largest commercial airlines, operate more than half (111 of 217) of the A380 aircraft in service. Etihad received its first A380 in December 2014 and presented the mock-up of its planned layout at the Milan Expo in May 2015. To date, Etihad continues to follow the same layout. The entire main deck is filled with 415 economy seats while the upper deck is made up of 70 business-class seats, a premium cabin lounge, nine apartments with access to a shower, and one Residence: a 125sqft home away from home. With a living room, separate double bedroom, ensuite shower room, a dedicated personal butler, and a private chef, the Residence is the only three-room suite on a commercial plane. Although Etihad has made a number of changes to its A380 routes, it currently flies to New York, London, Paris, and Sydney. From October 1, 2018, the airline will operate its second daily service linking Abu Dhabi and Paris, transforming its operations between the two capitals into an all-A380 service, making Paris only the second European destination after London to receive daily multiple visits from Etihad's award-winning double-decker aircraft.

Focusing on the aircraft itself, the Airbus A380 is a product of detail-oriented engineering on a large scale, whose features and articulated supply chain adds up to the final price tag of USD436 million. With 60% of the fleet powered by variants of the GP7200 and the rest Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines, the A380 is the result of a complex multimodal transport process. Despite these imposing aspects, the A380 has had a troubled commercial history. Allegedly, the A380 did not gain its expected success because of cost inefficiencies, miscalculated market insight, and competition from Boeing. The last point, if standing alone, is the easiest to dismiss. With an expected combined share of 75% of the total commercial fleet market share by 2025, according to an Aviation Week report, competition plays a constructive role. Failing to meet targets should lead Airbus, as it did, to identify internal inefficiencies, and looking at a competitor's model can speed up the improvement phase.

Regarding the miscalculated market and cost inefficiencies, the A380 is built around the assumption that airlines will continue to fly smaller planes on shorter routes (spokes) into a few large hubs, then onward to the next hub on giant airplanes. And there is reason to believe the market is slowly moving toward the hub-and-spoke scenario around which the Airbus Superjumbo was launched. As passenger traffic is doubling every 12.5 years, the A380 represents a solution to decongest airports and transport a growing number of passengers at higher occupancy rates per aircraft. After all, traffic is growing worldwide by about 4.4% annually; in the region, it is by more than 12.

From an operational point of view, the A380 is relatively efficient when flying at full capacity in terms of both CO2 emissions per passenger and fuel per seat-mile, burning 20% less than direct competitors. As such, there is reason to assume cost inefficiencies will be mitigated by an evolving commercial aviation market. If these changes come to be, the UAE and the A380 are perfectly placed at the center, both literally and figuratively.

In order to make sure the A380 stays relevant despite its commercial history, Etihad Airways is incorporating innovative services and introducing the airplane to new markets. On September 19, Etihad operated an A380 to the Velana International Airport in the Maldives to mark the opening of the airport's new runway. In terms of innovation, Etihad is testing its new broadband internet system with speeds of up to 50MB/s and plans to rollout this revolutionary service by 2019. Determined to successfully ride the future trends of the aviation industry, the UAE remains loyal to the choice it made 10 years ago.