Singapore Airlines (SIA) executive vice president for commercial Mak Swee Wah says the reconfiguration program for its Airbus A380 fleet is a reflection of, among other things, changing market demand and the rise of the premium leisure passenger willing to pay more for more comfort.
The Star Alliance member and Virgin Australia shareholder will shortly take delivery of the first of five new build A380s featuring new cabin products, more seats and fewer first class suites.
Under the new configuration, SIA will have 471 seats on its A380s, comprising six in suites, 78 in business, 44 in premium economy and 343 in economy. Suites is being moved to the upper deck alongside business class, while premium economy and economy will stretch out across the entire lower deck.
This represents a capacity increase of between seven per cent and 24 per cent from SIA’s two A380 configurations currently flying. These feature either 379 seats (12 suites, 86 business, 36 premium economy and 245 economy) or 441 seats (12 suites, 60 business, 36 premium economy and 333 economy).
Mak said the two existing configurations often meant the A380 was sometimes either too big or two small for some routes.
“The A380 is already 10 years in operation so we look at the market, we look at the demand and we’ve got a bit of data,” Mak told reporters at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France on Tuesday (local time).
“We’ve seen how the market has changed and we think that the new configuration suits the demand better.”
Mak said demand for first class remained small, given it was a bit of a niche market. However, business class remained strong and was described as a “mainstay” for the airline.
Meanwhile, the take-up of premium economy since SIA launched the cabin between economy and business in 2015 had been well received, particularly for passengers travelling for leisure.
“We were not the first but certainly we went in at the right time and what we see is there is quite a big interest in premium leisure for example, a segment which in the past there has been a debate as to whether they are willing to pay more,” Mak said.
“Clearly we see for long haul I think people are willing to pay more for comfort.”
Airbus and SIA offered invited media a look at the first A380 to be equipped with the airline’s new cabin products on Tuesday at the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse.
It was the first time the seats have been shown inside the cabin, given only mockups were on display at the official launch in Singapore in early November.
The A380 has been configured with six suites at the front of the on the upper deck, designed by Pierrejean Design Studio and manufactured by Zodiac Seats UK:
Then comes 78 business class seats, designed from the ground up by United Kingdom-based JPA Design and manufactured by Japanese firm JAMCO Corporation:
Meanwhile, the lower deck features 44 premium economy seats manufactured by ZIM Flugsitz and customised by design firm JPA Design at the front of the aircraft in a 2-4-2 configuration:
Followed by 343 economy seats designed and built by Recaro at 10 abreast:
SIA has five new-build A380s on order. The delivery flight for 9V-SKU was scheduled to take off from Toulouse on Wednesday afternoon, arriving in Singapore on Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, a further three SIA A380s were at various stages of completion at Airbus’s European facilities. One was seen sitting unpainted in Toulouse during SIA’s visit with invited media on Tuesday (local time), while there were two more at Airbus’s facility in Hamburg – 9V-SKV was having its seats installed and 9V-SKW was in the paintshop – on Monday.
The five aircraft have been earmarked to replace the five oldest A380s in the SIA fleet. One has already been returned to lessors, while a second had been withdrawn from operations and was being prepared to be returned to lessors.
Stripped of its original livery, #SingaporeAirlines' 1st #Airbus A380 9V-SKA MSN 003 has been repainted white and returned to lessors for storage at Tarbes in France, via @TarmacAerosave https://t.co/s7xuCajLjp
— Australian Aviation (@AusAviation) November 14, 2017
The airline plans to maintain its A380 fleet at 19 aircraft. However, there is likely to be fewer than 19 SIA A380s operating while the new aircraft are being delivered and older ones returned.
Similarly, the retrofit program for 14 existing A380s will take place from the middle of 2018 and run until 2020.
SIA has said previously the total cost of the project represented an investment of US$850 million in its A380 fleet.
Mak said the A380 would continue to be used on a combination of long-haul and shorter routes within the network.
“The A380 is a big plane and it has always been meant for the key metros where the traffic is very dense and where there is a limit to how many frequencies you can operate,” Mak said. “That hasn’t really changed.”
“Sydney, London will aways been there and of course we also operate to key Asian metros – Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Mumbai.
“Fleet development is an ongoing thing but as far as we can see now, for the forseeable future for the kind of markets that fits that particular mission, we need the A380.”