Airbus to offer higher-weight A380 from 2013

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Airbus is to lift the A380’s maximum take-off weight to 575t, a 6t hike on the current heaviest variant and 2t higher than an earlier increased-weight proposal.

It will stretch the range by some 150nm, said Airbus, taking its capability to around 15,500km (8,350nm) at current payloads.

The higher-weight version would be offered for introduction to service early in 2013.

Airbus’s most recent aircraft characteristics document, from November last year, listed six weight variants for the passenger type. These had maximum take-off weights ranging up to 569t for the WV002 variant.

The airframer said the heavier version would include a 3t increase in maximum zero-fuel weight as well as maximum landing weight, with a resulting 3t increase in payload.

Before the type entered service with Singapore Airlines in 2007, Airbus performed rejected take-off tests with the aircraft at a weight of 575t, and in 2010 it indicated plans to offer a 573t version, while the freighter would have been 590t.

Engine Alliance is to have a higher-thrust version of its GP7200 powerplant ready for service entry by early 2013, to support the higher-weight variant.

The engine, designated the GP7272, will be rated at 72,000lbs (320kN), said Mary Ellen Jones, president of the General Electric-Pratt & Whitney joint venture.

With 2,000lb of extra thrust compared with the current GP7200, it might enable services such as Dubai-Los Angeles. Engine Alliance is offering the GP7272 to customers, although none has selected it so far.

The powerplant manufacturer has confirmed, however, that Middle Eastern operator Qatar Airways has selected the GP7200 for its 10 A380s.

“We have nearly 600 orders to date, giving us a 56% market share of total engine orders for the A380 so far,” said Jones.

Qatar Airways joins Emirates, Air France and Korean Air, which between them have 31 A380s in operation, as well as Air Austral and Etihad Airways, as GP7200 customers. A further 14 A380s powered by GP7200s will be delivered by Airbus this year, said Jones.

She said Engine Alliance is focused on campaigns to place GP7200s with Hong Kong Airlines and Russia’s Transaero, and is presenting the engine to China Eastern Airlines, which has expressed an interest in the aircraft.

Rolls-Royce pointed out, however, that it is already positioned for a higher-weight A380 as its Trent 900 has been operating at 72,000lb thrust for four years.

“Our thrust capability is already firmly established in the marketplace, with our Qantas operations contributing to over 1 million flying hours and 16 million passenger journeys achieved by the Trent 900,” said head of Airbus customer marketing Peter Johnston.

Four airlines operate the Trent 900: Qantas, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and China Southern.

The engine has been selected by 11 of the 17 announced A380 customers, including Skymark and Asiana. “We remain committed to further product enhancement to deliver long term value to customers,” said Johnston.

Last November the aero engine manufacturer unveiled an  improvement package which, it stated, would deliver a  fuel burn improvement of up to 1.8% better than specification for future deliveries. “This reinforces the existing through-life fuel burn advantage the Trent 900 has, due to its low-deterioration three-shaft architecture,” said Johnston.

Additional reporting by Mark Pilling in Singapore