Will We Ever See Another Double Decker Plane?

One of the key features of the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 is their double-deck design. On two levels, airlines can provide every comfort for premium passengers, or can use the space to pack in over 600 passengers. But will we ever see planes like this again? Let’s explore.

Qantas stairs
Will we ever see an upper deck again on an aircraft? Photo: Qantas

Why do aircraft have two decks?

Technically (and let us nip this in the bud), all aircraft have two decks – one for passengers and one for cargo underneath. However, in this context, we will be discussing aircraft with two passenger decks (in addition to a cargo deck).

Back in the 1970s, air travel was becoming increasingly popular, and the Boeing 707 and 737 had opened up the market for middle-class travelers to consider flying rather than train, bus, or boat. However, this led to congestion at airports, and airlines suddenly started to find themselves competing for a limited number of landing and take-off slots. This would lead to some airports auctioning off times for millions of dollars (such as Heathrow) as there were simply no more slots left.

Thus there was now a demand for a bigger aircraft, one that could carry two or three times more passengers than a 737 and do the distance. Boeing entered the market with the 747 (which its upper deck was a by-product of its original design) and Airbus decades later with the Airbus A380.

The Airbus A380 has two full decks for passengers. Photo: Getty Images

The problem with a second deck

However, there is a bit of a design problem with second levels on aircraft. For airlines, fuel is the most expensive part of operations, and swapping out aircraft with a lighter version can save millions at the end of the year.

A second deck on an aircraft adds significant weight and normally has a smaller floor space than the lower deck, thus holding fewer revenue-generating passengers. An airline operating this type may only have a slight revenue boost compared to airlines operating bigger single deck aircraft.

The upper deck is also not suitable for cargo operations. This is the primary reason why a cargo Airbus A380 was not popular and why designs of the initial freighter Boeing 747 didn’t include an extended second deck compared to passenger counterparts.

Qantas plans farewell flights for 747
A Boeing 747 with its shorter deck. Photo: Getty Images

Will we ever see double-deck aircraft again?

The world has seen the passing of the Airbus A380, and the Boeing 747 is only popular for cargo operators. Simply put, there is no reason why a second-deck needs to be included in an aircraft design when a lighter single-deck will do the job.

The struggle of finding landing slots still exists, but airlines have discovered that double-decker aircraft is severely limited to only a few key routes. Even Emirates, champion of the A380, is swapping out for single-deck aircraft for the future. And with market conditions like today, it is unlikely that any manufacturer will put in the effort (and billions) to bring it to the market.

What do you think? Have you sat on the second deck of an A380 and Boeing 747? Let us know in the comments.