Why 11 seats abreast will not work for the Airbus A380

Airbus A380 Emirates

Earlier this year Airbus has confirmed it will be offering an 11-abreast configuration for the Airbus A380-800 from 2017 and onward. Although there does not seem to be any solid interest in the 11-abreast configuration as Emirates now pursues a re-engined version of the Airbus A380, AeroAnalysis modelled the impact of 11-abreast offering on fuel consumption and had a look at passenger comfort for aircraft in Emirates configuration.

Shaving weight from airline seats

State-of-the-art aircraft seats for economy class currently weigh less than 12 kg, while they used to weigh over 30 kg years ago. Assuming that currently economy seats weigh around 25 kg and new seats can save up to 20% per seat, the introduction of the 11-abreast configuration could potentially act as a weight saver next to increasing revenue.

AeroAnalysis estimated the weight savings to be around 1200 kg or 0.4% of the typical operating empty weight, while at the same time revenue potential in economy class increases by 10% due to the addition of up to 40 seats.

Impact on fuel efficiency

The main reason to increase seats on an airframe is to increase revenue and optimize profit. While revenue increases, the costs per seat such as fuel costs per seat decrease. For a 6,000 nm mission the 11-seat abreast configuration adds about 1% in fuel consumption, but per 100 passenger-km the fuel consumption is more than 6.5% lower.

Impact on passenger comfort

Airbus A380 11

Emirates was one of the airlines that looked into applying an 11-abreast layout in economy class, but refrained from implementing this feature as the airline felt the luxury status of its economy class might suffer from adding an extra seat per row.

In 11-abreast configuration the seat width remains at a comfortable 18 inch, but there is more than numbers that give a feel of comfort.

There are 3 seats per row that look particularly uncomfortable:

  1. The middle seat; until the passenger has to get out of his seat there is no real problem. But once the passenger needs visit the bathroom it has to pass 2 seats instead of 1. This also causes lower comfort for the passengers that do have to let the passenger from the middle seat pass.
  2. The 2 window seats; window seats mostly are preferred as it offers the passenger a breath taking view, while the Airbus A380 cruises 37,000 ft above the Earth with a speed over 850 km/h. The picture below, however, shows that the window seat in 11-abreast configuration probably is not the preferred seat.

Window Seat 11

The picture clearly shows that, although, the seat width remains at a ‘comfortable’ 18 inches the window seat is a whole lot less comfortable as the passenger is being pushed into the curvature of the fuselage.

Why 11 seats abreast will not work for the Airbus A380…

From a financial point of view the 11-abreast configuration will work. The extra fuel costs for carrying more passengers and the addition of 1 cabin crew member is easily offset by the 10% higher revenue potential in economy class.

Looking at the negative impact the 11-abreast configuration has on passenger comfort, it probably is not worth it for airlines to apply such configuration. Most airlines use the Airbus A380 as a flagship, making cramming passengers into a cabin to optimize profit unpreferred. While Emirates once was one of the airlines pursuing an 11-abreast configuration, it has also rejected the idea of  11 seats per row and is openly looking for a new engine to power the Airbus A380 and cut per seat costs by 10%.

In the end 11-abreast is not a solution, since passengers fly the Airbus A380 for the comfort it offers… even in economy class.

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