An Indian Ocean airline is planning the first regular flights for more than 800 passengers after buying a budget version of the Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner, with economy seating throughout.
Reunion-based Air Austral confirmed an order for two superjumbos at the Dubai Air Show and said it would operate them between Paris and the French overseas department from 2014.
The deal will put the A380 into service as the industry’s largest people carrier and comes 80 years after the first wood and canvas plane touched down on the Indian Ocean Island after making the 9300 km (5,800 mile) trip from Paris in 10 days.
The A380 entered service in 2007 and is designed to seat 525 people in ordinary three-class seating or 853 people when its two floors of cabins are filled with economy seats giving it 8 times more capacity than Airbus’s smallest model, the A318.
So far, buyers of the plane have focused on luring premium passengers with facilities from beds and showers in first class to a stand-up bar, with total seating of around 500 people.
Air Austral said its low-cost version would seat 840 people.
“We are convinced that airplanes with good priced tickets will help explode traffic figures,” founder and President Gerard Etheve told Reuters after announcing the deal yesterday.
The economy end of the airline market has performed relatively better during the financial crisis, but revenues everywhere have been battered by recession this year.
The budget version of the A380 aims at tapping growth in China, India and demand from airlines flying aging Boeing 747s on high-density routes in markets like Japan, where rival Boeing dominates air travel.
Boeing’s 747-400D, a version of the jumbo jet built for the Japanese domestic market, carries up to 660 people in one class.
Etheve said the airline he founded in 1975 had paid less than the $660 million list price for two Airbus A380s.
The aircraft was tested for the ability to evacuate over 800 people in cabin emergency tests before entering service.
Air Austral’s planes will be powered by engines from the Engine Alliance, a joint venture between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.
The A380 deal, reported by Reuters earlier this week, includes options for a further two A380s to either serve future Caribbean routes or more flights to La Reunion.
Pic: Airbus A380 plane