I think the cases for the Domestic use of the A380 worldwide are quite different. Here are my thoughts:
Japan is much smaller than the Indian subcontinent but has seen the 747-400D and 777-300A on domestic routes for some years. The problem is that the Shinkansen trains are not much slower, once the congestion in the air at the heavily slot constrained NRT
, and to a lesser extent FUK
, and the traffic getting to and from these places is factored in. It has not always been the case, but generally the bullet train is roughly comparable in terms of journey time for city centre to city centre travel. They are roughly the same in terms of luxury, but the train offers per-head costs that are dramatically lower, and so generally, the plane is more expensive (although this is not always the case). The 777 is about as large as one can get operating the very tight turnarounds that JL
have to have if they are to keep breathing space in the schedules and their utilisation rates high. The A380 in a D configuration would be circa 700 pax at least, probably a great deal more than that, indeed some analysts have speculated that it would be likely that they would cram the absolute maximum in that the airframe is certified for which IIRC is 800-odd.
The point is that it is generally held that you cannot legitimately claim to be able to turn around that many pax on a 45 minute turnaround - unloading alone will probably take half an hour even if the ground crew are ready and on top of their game. Nobody is better in the world at turning around large numbers of widebodies very quickly and granted their operations tend to be geared towards this, but many analysts have expressed grave doubts as to whether you can turn around a D-configured A388 in 45 mins and do it consistently all through the day, and I am one of them. If you have ten flights per day with a 45 min turnaround, and half of them have a relatively minor ten minute delay, you are running 50 mins late by the end of the day overrunning the whole allotted turnaround time by five mins - not ideal. Another thing to factor in is that occasionally you will have an A380 going tech - when that happens that is an awful lot of pax to find room for without too much delay. It is a problem they have with the 747s, but an A380 is that much larger and the problem is that much worse.
I think if the A388 was able to offer comparable CASM to the Shinkansen on the trunk routes then I would say JL
would have pressured Boeing into building one. The Japanese market is one of the few business sectors in the world where the demand is there immediately to replace a number (note: not all) of 773 and 744 flights one for one with A388s, but there would unquestionably be changes in the schedules required. Will the CASM benefits over the 777/747 combo offset the longer turnaround time and considerable expense in dedicated training and crewing pools? Highly contentious, but I dont think so. If you add the fact that both NH
are very unlikely to order Airbus anyway, even though there is no comparable Boeing product, and the fact that some of the stations that they would use the A380 to may not be A380 ready, the case for the A380 in Japan seems bleak. The 777 is roughly on the sweetspot on the capacity vs turnaround time graph and it works nicely for them; so much so, that I can see both JL
being all 777/787 airlines for the widebody fleet in future.
In India there is no Shinkansen bullet trains, and the country is much, much larger. With such a vast population there is a burgeoning air travel requirement for flights in India. Traditionally the percentage of the population that are economically within the target group for air travel has not been high enough but as the undoubted economic superpower in the region this has changed dramatically. As with Japan, the A380’s main competitor is the train which is far, far cheaper but vastly more time consuming than air travel. I have speculated before that if the A380 is to succeed anywhere on Earth in a domestic role, it would be here.
Unfortunately for A380’s prospects with India’s domestic carriers, the infrastructure simply is not in place for widespread use of the A380 at present. Shuttle services between Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and Delhi are wonderful in principle but the airport infrastructure in these cities is not geared up for very large scale A380 use at the moment. Gate space, equipment, and passenger facilities allowing three or four lots of 700-odd pax per flight all day every day just is not in place in India. If it were, then the A380 would rule the skies over the region, as there can be little doubt that the aircraft’s CASM advantage would be very hard to beat.
The A380 would probably not be a one class economy shuttle in my opinion, but more than likely have some premium class seating as well. The changes needed to make the A380 viable in India as an alternative to the train are not really that large, but would probably stretch to new terminals if large scale usage is to be contemplated. Utilisation rates are not quite so important in India mainly because turnarounds are much longer as a matter of course, and so in this respect the A380 is more suited than in Japan. Often it is the Indian way to keep using something, often way, way above or more than its intended limit until it breaks (note: this does NOT apply to airlines – they are extremely safe) and it may be that the airports will designate a number of bays to be A380 ready, fit a double-deck jet-bridge, and that will be that – the view could be that the retail/catering/immigration/baggage services will sort themselves out etc.
Ironically, the Indian subcontinent may well be the A380s saving grace, as Emirates, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, and probably Etihad as well, likely to use the type into Indian airports at some stage, such is the massive growth shown on these routes. Were British Airways to order the type it seems likely that it would seek to deploy the A380 to India. It seems unlikely therefore that we will not see the A380 in India, but probably equally unlikely that we will see it outside of Mumbai and Delhi for the time being. In the medium/long term, once improvements in infrastructure and transport links are made, the A380 may be a formidable competitor on the Indian shuttle routes, but one suspects even larger variants such as the proposed -900 series, or maybe a competing Boeing design will be in service by then.
Once domestic traffic keeps on improving as it surely will, then the A380 is very likely to be seen in Chinese skies on domestic routes, and much sooner than say, India. All three of the Chinese majors will probably end up ordering a VLA at some point and it seems likely that the A380 will get a good market share; indeed China Southern have already ordered five. In the medium/long term the hub centres of Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing and also Hong Kong will easily be able to accommodate A380-sized traffic on trunk routes amongst each other.
Aside from the fact that none of the US majors (CO, DL
, US) are likely to order the A380, it is extremely doubtful whether the A380 will ever be used domestically. The reason for this is that the US market has shown much more of a leaning towards frequency as one of the main market drivers in recent years and of the above airlines only two operate anything larger than the 777-200ER for this very reason. In the past it was quite common to see large widebodies such as the Tristar, DC10, and 747 Classic on domestic routes but as the market has fragmented we have seen city pairs that previously had one 757 or 767 rotation per day now getting three Regional Jet departures as airlines have determined that the US consumer wants convenience of a choice of departures. The associated costs of this strategy caused what analysts refer to as the “RJ Boom” in the US, and in my opinion was one of the key reasons behind the slew of major Chapter XI filings since 2001. Although some have noted an apparent change in some airline’s strategies in this respect, the US market continues to be overwhelmingly dominated by narrowbodies and regional jets and this will probably not change anytime soon. Does the A380 have a chance as a sort of Wal-Mart 700-seat LAX
shuttle? Unlikely in my opinion. If the advantages of a far superior CASM over the fewer frequencies offered were so compelling, we would see far larger aircraft being used domestically in the US.
Europe boasts the largest concentration of A380-ready airports in the world, a very large percentage of the population who fly regularly, de-regulated Open Skies legislation in place, and in the case of FRA
, and LHR
, unarguably the region’s three largest and most important hubs, serious slot constraint issues. This should, on paper, make it the most logical choice for A380 use domestically. It has not been discussed at length really yet but I feel that it is quite likely.
Granted, it is unlikely that any airline is going to order the A380 purely for domestic use, but Air France and Lufthansa are two airlines that do use their 747 fleets on domestic routes (Corsica and Berlin are two that spring to mind) in between long-haul sectors which does wonders for utilisation rates. If Iberia were to order the type it would almost certainly use it to connect Madrid to the Canary Islands which could at a stretch be considered to be domestic use. This will be the case in the Middle East with Emirates more than likely.
In the ultimate form, could a European LoCo shuttle service work with the A380? Probably not, as turnaround time is vital and narrowbodies are less risky, but are the city-pairs there? It is difficult to envisage them, to be honest. To get the kind of traffic figures a domestically configured A380 would need (at a decent yield) to be profitable, you would have to go for the leisure markets which mean very seasonal business and rock-bottom yields. In-flight retail and catering services are good money earners for the European LoCos, but is there time to offer these services to that many people on a one hour sector? No, of course not. For the moment then, only the legacies upping utilisation rates with short cargo-heavy domestic sectors are the likely to be using the A380 domestically.
What do you mean you dont have any bourbon? Do you know how far it is to Houston? What kind of airline is this???