Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Time to Talk: The A380 and Weight Projections

I've been puzzling over the lack of hard information with respect to the weight of the Airbus A380, but I believe that there is some information to share, much of which presents some issues in the form of limitations to the operating envelope, even when you use Airbus' numbers.

From the Airbus airplane characteristics manual of Jan. 30, 2005 the following data is listed for the 555 passenger version.

Everything's in pounds by the way.

Basic operating weight 595,281
Zero fuel weight 795,869
Max fuel load 545,648
Max Takeoff weight 1,234,588

Now. From the latest F.A.A Advisory Circular for calculating weights we get 190 pounds for a male in the summer, which includes 16 pounds of carryons. Luggage at 30 pounds each gets checked.

So. The unfueled airplane has 200,588 pounds of disposable load not devoted to fuel. Dispose of it any way you want, whether it's passengers, cargo, or a mix.

At 220 pounds per passenger and baggage, if we fill all the seats, that reduces the disposable load to 78,488 pounds.

If we take the basic operating aircraft and fill the seats and hold as much as we're able, we are left with 438,719 pounds to devote to fuel-which means we can carry only 80 per cent of what it's designed for.

Looking at it from another direction, if we take the basic operating aircraft and add a full fuel load we come up with an airplane that figures out at 1,140,929 pounds, which leaves us 93,569 pounds of disposable load for passengers and cargo to divide any way we care to. If it's passengers and baggage, we come out with 426 passengers with their luggage, and no cargo. If it's bulk cargo, we can carry 93,569 pounds of cargo and fly with nobody in the seats.

Now. The word on the street is that the versions of the A380 that are delivered to the launch operator and first runner up (Singapore Airlines and Qantas) will be configured for about 500 passengers. Assuming the standard figures for passengers and baggage, we end up with another 12,100 pounds to play with.

In the first scenario (bottom up) our disposable load improves to 90,588 pounds. Not great but better and it still leaves us with a substantial fuel deficit.

In the second scenario (top down), we don't net any gains.

The Variables and How They Matter.

There are two critical figures germane to unscrambling this subject.

One is the weight of the green aircraft before the interior gets added, and this is not known to yr. obedient servant. The second critical figure is the weight of the interior installation which is also unknown to this writer. Clearly if we reduce the seating capacity from 555 to around 500 we may save something on the seating and interior fittings, but what that amounts to will be reduced because obviously a passenger on an airplane that now seats 500 instead of 555 will be paying more for the seat and will be demanding a higher level of comfort which can increase the weight of the individual seats.

If the basic empty weight figure (610,200 pounds) that is listed in the Wikipedia article is the more accurate number, the picture becomes bleaker. Information that is available at present suggests that a basic empty weight figure right around 610,000 pounds may be a real possibility.

In addition, I am informed by a generally reliable source that the new operators of the A380 generally plan for checked baggage in the neighborhood of 80 pounds per passenger, rather than the F.A.A.'s modest 30 pound planning allowance. If that is indeed the case, the picture becomes significantly more troublesome.

As in the case of the basic empty weight, the message is starting to emerge that there is very little room for growth here, and planning for more than around 500 passengers is not going to be any more than an exercise in wishful thinking. And 800 passengers? Forget it.

The only way to fly the airplane within the allowable weight limits will be to reduce the passenger load. And if the A380 can't meet its design objective as cattle hauler deluxe, one might ask how is that going to change the marketing that's already been done, and what does that say to all that's gone before?

Either way, it stacks up like this: the operators can operate for range and pay with empty seats, or they can fill up the seats and be limited in the fuel that can be carried.

The Takehome.

Well, you ask, "How does this matter? What's it to me? We never sell all the seats anyway."

Simply this. Unless you know exactly how many people are going to show up at the airport and how much cargo needs to be carried on any given day from one point to another, you might well run up against the operating limits of this aircraft, if the information available is at all accurate.

Profit margins are a funny thing. If you have capacity that cannot be utilized, for whatever reasons, it's going to torpedo your bottom line. The seats or holds you can't fill are money you won't make, and the paying passengers and cargo will have their burden correspondingly increased.

And one thing that airline operators hate more than anything else is to turn away passengers and packages when they have empty seats and space in the cargo hold they've been told they cannot use because of weight restrictions.

The Paranoia.

Airbus hasn't taken anything remotely resembling an order for the A380 since the middle of last year. While Airbus and Boeing were selling the heck out of the B737 and A320, Boeing was tearing up the order pads with the B787 and Airbus was making a respectable showing with the A350, nobody bought the A380. In short, people were buying vaporware, i.e., the 787 and A350, and nobody was buying something you could see, smell, and walk around inside. That's got to hurt, and if I was an Airbus A380 marketing guy I'd be worried.


At 12:34 AM, Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

Thanks for the outlook.


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