Airbus's A380 superjumbo could get even larger with bigger wings

Airbus's A380 superjumbo may sprout extended wings as the European manufacturer intensifies studies into the addition of curved extensions aimed at reducing drag and boosting efficiency.

The so-called winglets, which on the A380 would each measure as much as five metres, could reduce fuel burn by up to 4 per cent by dissipating the vortexes of rapidly spinning air created by the plane's wings.

Airbus's commercial aircraft chief Fabrice Bregier said Friday there's a good chance that the company will opt to upgrade the smaller wingtip fences currently fitted on the A380. The switch, together with improved engine efficiencies, could help win orders while avoiding the greater expense of a Neo upgrade featuring new turbines and changes to the double-decker's airframe.

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"We will not launch an A380neo, there's no business case now to do that, this is absolutely clear," Bregier said. "But it doesn't prevent us from looking at what could be done to improve the performance of the aircraft. So having a little bit more efficiency from the engines is clearly an option, and looking at whether we could bring new winglets is also probably a good possibility."

Adding the extensions would require only minor modifications to the A380's wings, with no need to strengthen the center box where they join to the plane's fuselage, Bregier said in an interview at Airbus's headquarters in Toulouse, France. That was a cost the company sustained when adding winglets to its A320-series single-aisle planes.

Enhancements to the A380 could help lure buyers after the world's biggest passenger plane drew an order blank last year, and Airbus will only go ahead with the winglets upgrade if there is commercial interest, Bregier said.

Emirates, the biggest superjumbo customer, is in early talks over a deal for 20 more A380s, people familiar with the discussions said this week. The Dubai carrier told Bloomberg that while it has no plans for a purchase right now, it regularly engages with manufacturers on "product updates and enhancement."

Didier Evrard, Airbus's commercial programs chief, said studies into the winglets are progressing and stem from technological advancements as well as the need to make the A380 more efficient. "Ten or 15 years ago we were not able to design winglets with the right balance or drag," he said, adding that the existing wingtips "are not the most optimal part of the A380."

The model was formally launched in December 2000, had its first flight in 2005, and entered commercial service with Singapore Airlines Ltd. in 2007.

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Even a 1 percent fuel saving would be significant for the superjumbo, which carries 200 metric tons of kerosene for a typical long-haul flight, according to Evrard, who on Monday said Airbus would need to consider slowing the A380 build rate to less than one jet a month without new contracts this year.

Rolls-Royce Holdings, which is supplying engines for the outstanding A380s from existing Emirates orders, could provide range and fuel-burn improvements for the Trent 900 turbine that it makes for the model. It referred questions about potential upgrades to Airbus.

As part of its push to make the superjumbo more attractive to airlines Airbus has also devised half a dozen cabin modifications in order to accommodate more than 80 additional seats. The changes include removing an upper-deck stowage area, re-positioning the main staircase and moving to an 11-abreast layout on the main deck.

Bloomberg

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See also: 'Grand staircase' to go in plan to squeeze more seats on to A380s

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