Airbus remains focused on helping airlines fit more passengers into airplanes. Qantas committed to that effort, announcing earlier this month that it will be the first “A380 Cabin-Flex” customer, extra row of seats on board in exchange for an exit door. The new layout launchs on the Australian carrier in mid 2019 and be retrofit across the dozen A380s the carrier operates.
Key to delivering this cabin layout change is the lower passenger count on the upper deck. The upstairs features three sets of exit doors to allow for the safe evacuation of passengers. That design came about from the 850+ passenger maximum passenger count certification number Airbus pursued with regulators for the type. In that layout the upper deck would carry 300+ passengers and would require all six door exits in an emergency. The current Qantas layout seats only 129 passengers upstairs (64J, 35W, 30Y); the full complement of exits is not required. So the rear most doors are going away.
By deactivating the 3rd set of doors the extra space required for access to that exit door goes away. Crew jump seats at the door are also removed, freeing additional space for passenger seating. The net gain, according to Airbus, is 11 premium economy seats or 7 business class seats.
Presumably a dozen or more additional economy class seats could also be installed in that space, though that number is not highlighted in the marketing release. Nor would the economy class seat increase deliver the same yield premium from that cabin space. Also worth noting that, while this is the currently flying A380 layout Qantas previously announced a plan to retrofit the upper deck to 70J/60W. For Qantas the additional premium seats will be a nice boost to aircraft yield potential. Other airlines could pursue different options in that space.
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In the Qantas layout the additional seats seem likely to be either premium economy or economy as stretching business class further back means spanning that product past the second exit doors upstairs. That sort of layout can work in some cases but the single row mini cabin is rare. The upstairs mini cabin for economy class is one of the more intimate and comfortable coach seating layouts on an ultra long haul aircraft. And premium economy demand continues to grow as well. Either product should be sufficiently desired by travelers to sell well for the carrier. Airbus cites a one year RoI for the retrofit work based on expected increased revenue.
Compared to the other A380 tweaks Airbus offers this Cabin-Flex option appears to be an easy win that benefits passengers and the operating carrier. Unlike the A380plus idea floated in 2017 the A380 Cabin-Flex plan does not remove sidewall storage, shrink seat size or squeeze more seats in across any row on board. Delivering improved airline operating economics at a reasonable RoI without adversely affecting passengers is something of a holy trinity and the A380 Cabin-Flex solution appears to meet that goal.
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The Airbus A321 also offers a Cabin Flex option. The new layout for the smaller plane similarly removes an exit door, replacing it with over wing exists that consume less floor space rather than completely eliminating it. The A321 version also allows for increased passenger count and is in testing now. While the Cabin-Flex layout remains an option for the A380 going forward – and presumably would not be viable on the higher density versions such as Emirates‘ 2-class configuration – the A321neo ACF layout will become the standard layout “around 2020” according to Airbus.
More from AIX 2018
- Google’s "inflight wifi play" brings questions, not answers
- Bunk beds on board: The new plan to make economy class travel comfortable
- Qantas to "flex" A380 cabin
- Return of the Skyrider: the saddle seat returns
- Gogo management shakeup, part 2
- Are UON? New entrants launch inflight connectivity options
- Innovation rises again for Global Eagle
- Welcome to the electronically steered, phased array era
Header image: Qantas A380 taking off, courtesy of Airbus