- Airbus was heavily influenced by the fact that almost all prior models had been built with tight performance margins, leaving very little room for improvement. Especially the A300/310 and the A342/3 had a too small wing, too weak engines. Didn't want to make that mistake again.
This seems to be an odd statement, given how A330 now has 251t MTOW and a NEO and the A321LR has >4000nm range and >200 pax. Yes, they both would benefit from a larger wing, but they both benefit from an optimized core and the usual engine efficiency improvement curve of ~1.5% per year to deliver meaningful performance gains over time.
Literal transcription of some statements:Interviewer
: "Was your expectation that the A380 would take over such a dominant market position for decades, like the 747 had previously?"Thomas
: "Yes, exactly that. At the time we started the development, Boeing had sould thousands of the 747 in the decades since 1969 in a market that was smaller than the contemporary market. We focused especially on one thing at this time: Not repeating mistakes of the past, namely developing aircraft that couldn't be developed further, or only with much additional effort. For example the A340-200 and -300, they were at the limit of their development from the start, due to the CFM engine which was at the upper end of its thrust range and we had a too small wing, so we couldn't increase MTOW any further or increase fuel volume. That's what we wanted to avoid. Also the A310, she was at the end of her development, we did develop the -300 with fuel tanks in the empennage to increase range but we wanted to avoid that with the A3XX, as she was called then. So we gave her a large wing, a large gear with 20 wheels with a size and distribution that could permit a significantly higher MTOW, we provided ample fuel volume to increase range, we did everything, we even changed the engine shortly before the end [i. e. design freeze] to meet noise requirements. We included everything that should've guaranteed the future of this aircraft.
And at this point, I ask myself, to be honest, whether the successors at Airbus that hadn't been involved in this concept phase, whether they really knew that this aircraft was conceived for a long time, for a large family, including a freighter. We accepted penalties for that, we made a main deck that was higher* than regular, we gave ourselves a limit of 1.5% additional operating cost for that - through additional weight, fuel burn - but it had to fit the 8''x8'' containers to allow the development of a freighter. And the freighter was important, not just to offer a cargo aircraft of this size to airlines [at the time] but also to convert old passenger aircraft to freighters. That's a common occurence, to give aircraft a longer lifespan via a freighter conversion. This has an effect on price, often you have to guarantee a residual value at 10, 12, 15 years. Of course it has a higher value if it can [still] be used for something [after this time]. All this was built into the aircraft."
*my mistake, in the original post I translated as "wider".
Regarding the freighter:Interviewer
: "What was ultimately the cause why the -900 was never developed? Could that have been the breakthrough?"Thomas
: "Well, the -900 couldn't have followed immediately. One would've waited a few years to monitor demand. We did get calls from LH and AF, if I recall correctly, when we'd start development of the "stretch-plane". And of course that would've been the optimum model, regarding fuel burn per seat, operating cost per seat, maintenance per seat. The -800 has 560 tons, the -900 was supposed to have 600 tons. With the additional 40 tons, we could've stretched the fuselage for about 100 more passengers."Interviewer
: "So how long would it have taken, after the first flight of the -800, until a -900 could have flown?"Thomas
: "Technically, the engineers would have been ready after the -800 had been certified. It was a question of the demand. And if the airlines had approached us, it would've followed 3 to 4 years later. Our mistake, in my opinion, but this was also due to pressure from FedEx, you know they have the "Pope of Freight" Fred Smith, and he had close business relations with our boss, Jean Pierson. He wanted to have a freighter as soon as possible. And Pierson insisted that we develop the freighter in parallel to the -800. That simply overwhelmed us. That's impossible."Interviewer
: "Nowadays one must ask how such a freighter could have worked in the first place. Loading and unloading the upper deck alone would've been extremely complex for the airlines, for the airports to buy all the necessary equipment? Did you really expect to build up all this infrastructure?"Thomas
: "I don't see a larger challenge than with passenger aircraft. Especially these infrastructure problems were worked on intensely. We had a special team that only discussed airport handling. This also applied to the freighter. I had an own, small team that cooperated with FedEx, including a frenchman that spent more time in Memphis than in Toulouse, that was Richard Carcaillet, and I recall that Pierson insisted that I myself also went to Memphis. And we met with his [Smith's] team of 20 men and us two, Carcaillet and me, and presented our plans. He had spent months watching the small and large aircraft arriving every night, and Carcaillet knew everything in such detail that Smith nearly exploded and claimed "This guy knows my airline better than you [the FedEx managers]". We had worked on this, and I have no doubt that it would've worked. The difficulties had started with the passenger version already, for example there were no loaders [i. e. catering trucks] that could reach the upper deck. The airlines required that there be at least two independent suppliers worldwide for such loaders, that could lift these weights all the way to the upper deck. We chased stuff like this to ensure our credibility with the airlines."