Airline to turn A380 superjumbo into sardine can

It is a flying sardine can on a massive scale. The Reunion-based Air Austral has announced its plans to become the world's first airline with an all-economy class Airbus A380, which will seat around 840 passengers.

The airline ordered two of the double-decked jets overnight, claiming they would enable it to offer cheaper tickets between Paris and the French territory in the Indian Ocean.

"Our vision is to provide a low cost-high quality service on the heavy traffic route between La Reunion and Paris and the A380 allows us to make this vision a reality,'' said Air Austral president Gerard Etheve in a statement.

"The A380 has the lowest cost per seat and is the most environment-friendly aircraft flying today while at the same time providing a high level of passenger comfort.''

However, it is unlikely Air Austral, which launches Boeing 777 flights to Sydney on April 14, will ever use the jets on its services to Australia.  

Air Austral's order for two single-class A380s has confirmed suspicions the world's largest passenger jet's reputation for luxury could be undermined by airlines eager to lower their fuel costs per passenger on long routes.

By fitting 840 passengers in an A380, Airbus claims the aircraft will be the most fuel efficient - and environmentally friendly - yet.

The Toulouse-based aircraft maker said the Air Austral A380 will consume less than two litres of fuel per 100 kilometres per passenger. Airbus claims the jet is 20% more fuel efficient than the Boeing 747.

The order has also confirmed suspicions the A380s could soon morph into the largest flying cattle truck.


Airbus has already openly flagged the idea the A380 could one day fit 1000 passengers, when stretched versions of the jet roll off the production line. This could be done by squeezing 11 seats into each row in the stretched jets, one more than a 747.

The A380 is already certified to carry 853 passengers.

As part of its certification, Airbus undertook an emergency evacuation from the jet in 2006, where 853 passengers and 20 crew were evacuated in less than 80 seconds.

Qantas has 450 seats on its A380s but so far has made no suggestion it will ever allow its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar to use any of the 20 superjumbos it has on order.

Emirates, which has an order for 58 of the jets, has hinted it could have three classes of A380s, the most packed carrying 650 passengers on shorter routes from its Dubai hub.

There is also speculation the jets could one day be used on high-density domestic routes in Japan, such as Tokyo to Osaka, where single-class Boeing 747 jumbos regularly fly.

Airbus's chief commercial officer, John Leahy, even spruiked the idea on a previous trip to Sydney of the jets being used on domestic routes in India.

"You could go from Bangalore [India] to Delhi, which is about a 2 3/4 hour trip,'' he told the Herald in 2007. "If you have a single [class] configuration you would have a lower seat-mile cost on that plane than on the train going from Bangalore to Delhi, which takes about 2 1/2 days.''