Could An All A380 Low Cost Carrier Work?

Recently, the low-cost carrier Air Austral rented an Airbus A380 for its Paris to Reunion island route, to ferry holidaymakers down the tropical paradise.

The A380 was provided from the wet-lease company HiFly, who is the first leasing company to have an A380 available for rent. Because they own the flying certificate, you don’t even need to have a license to run the airline.

The A380 unfortunately hit (or got hit) by a boarding ramp and is awaiting repairs before it can fly again.

HiFly A380 hitting jetbridge / Ramp. Source: Twitter

Air Austral originally had two A380’s on order and planned them to be an all-economy configuration.  Naturally, you would not spend over $800 million on two aircraft if it was not a solid financial idea. They have since canceled, but one has to wonder what could have been.

What would a low-cost-carrier A380 look like?

Had Air Austral taken delivery of its A380 double-deck aircraft, they would outfit the planes with 840 seats each in an-all economy configuration. This is compared to the normal configuration of around 480 seats (split over economy, premium economy, business, and first classes) found in today’s A380s.

Air Austral
Air Austral

We have covered in great detail what the service would be like, using the example of what if Ryanair bought an A380.

In terms of operation, our best two examples would be to look at Ryanair’s (EasyJet and Wizzair) marketplace dominance, and how Emirates operates a fleet of exclusive large capacity aircraft.

Many low-cost carriers operate a fleet of hundreds of planes, such as Boeing 737’s, that can quickly and easily fly between many destinations.  Emirates, on the other hand, flies mainly to big cities on incredibly long-haul routes (Such as London to Dubai to Sydney) that have the demand for big passenger numbers.

An A380 would have to fly between routes that can handle the large plane and also have the passenger numbers to be worthwhile.  Many routes that low-cost-carriers fly are very remote small regional airports that don’t require large capacity planes, certainly not 500+ daily seats on an A380.

Would it be economical?

The overall business model of operating a low-cost A380 would be oversupplying economy seats, beating out competitors by pricing their seats lower than the competition can afford.

We have gone into great depth and analysed if Norwegian made any money from flying the A380 earlier this year. This is very telling if this concept is even possible.

Additionally, we also have mentioned that economy is normally a break-even or loss for airlines, with them making the most money from their more premium offerings.

But these analyses are based off the current seating capacity of an A380 of around 400-500 seats. What if the whole plane was economy with 840 seats?

You can read the maths here for a Norwegian A380 all economy A380. 

How would it affect the rest of the airline industry?

Whilst many articles explore in great detail what the A380 itself would be like, few discuss the ramifications on the rest of the industry. What if a low-cost-carrier decided to run a fleet of A380s? How would that affect the commercial aviation landscape?

Inside the economy section of a Qatar A380.

Well if we took the examples above of a low-cost-carrier Ryanair operating 420 jets, and made them A380s then what would happen? Teodor Negru has the answer:

If all of Ryanair’s Boeing 737–800 planes would magically transform into Airbus 380s (And they had the pilots and staff to fly them), two things would happen:

  1. Their capacity would increase from 189 pax per plane to 868 pax per plane – an almost 4.6x increase. Also, since they would now have 420 A380s they would be by far the largest type operator with almost 2x the current worldwide fleet and 4x Emirates’ fleet!
  2. The airports they fly to would dramatically reduce. There were 19 airports that saw A380 traffic in Europe in 2017, and maybe a few more that COULD support A380 traffic (Where does the Airbus A380 fly? Q4 2017 network update)

All in all, a 4.6x increase in capacity (where would they get enough pax to fill all those planes, even with dirt-cheap prices?) and only some 20 airports that could receive their planes (where would they find enough pax for those 190 city pairs?) means most one thing: they would be out of business before they knew what hit them – and I strongly doubt they could sell part of this fleet to buy 737s again as prices would surely plummet with so many unwanted planes on the market all of a sudden.

Plus, they would also have to have the right priority at each airport, as like we saw with JFK and Norwegian’s A380, they couldn’t actually land there at the right time (as JFK only has a limited number of A380 gates).

Thus, there simply is not enough passenger numbers in the world to allow for an all A380 low-cost-carrier and economically it just would not work… for now.

With China, Africa, and South Asia experiencing growth in billions and a greater desire to move people around, they will start to look for more economical options. The A380 might be able to capture this market (And thus what many suspect Emirates is setting out to do) and its golden age might be yet to come.