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A new patent filed by Airbus has us wondering: Is this new plane a bird, a whale, or a mammoth?
The patent describes an enigmatic double decker aircraft with a variety of possible configurations. Technically, it’s at least three planes, for now, until Airbus decides where to put the wings and the engines.
What’s That in the Sky?
When we looked at the various aircraft configurations proposed, we saw features borrowed from today’s A380, some borrowed from the manufacturer’s aircraft carrier Beluga, even some features that seem inspired by the Russian Antonov aircraft. But little things like aeronautics aside, the common thread is to appeal to airlines by making a double-decker flexible, practical and viable on more routes.
Airbus Knows From Big Birds
The core concept behind this very odd double-decker duck is compelling, and could prove very useful to airlines. It also addresses some of the downsides of the manufacturer’s current double-decker A380.
Some attribute this mixed reception to inherent flaws in the A380’s design. The new just-a-concept aircraft in the patent seems to address these A380 deficiencies.
The A380 Vs. the A3-Whatsit
The A380 has a lot of passenger capacity, but the cargo hold isn’t big enough to fit both passenger luggage and profitable cargo in the hold, once you put the fuel in for longer routes.
This concept double-decker makes room for both. As Airbus states:
“[T]he airplane comprises one passenger compartment and cargo compartment whose dimensions can be adjusted to the airline needs by moving the partition wall. Foldable seats installed on guides in a sliding manner may be used to increase/reduce the dimension of a passenger compartment.”
Eeek! Those Seats
The idea of folding seats, as presented in this patent, might alarm those who already worry about today’s crowded cabins, or those who are still not over the shock of other “unique” seating concepts that Airbus has patented. But the folding seats in this yet-to-be-engineered aircraft would be useful to airlines, letting them change the structures of the cabin quickly–even overnight.
“Airlines can thus shift the cabin walls and add or remove seats to make room for cargo or other cabin configurations,” Airbus states in the patent brief.
The Airport Issue
Another downside of today’s A380 is that, while it is a long range aircraft, it is too large to serve many of the world’s airports, thereby limiting what city pairs the A380 can fly. Airports which want to attract A380 business have to build bigger runways and special piers.
Airbus intends this strange-new-aircraft-that-has-more-people-in-it to be more airport-friendly. The concept includes a lower deck at a height from the ground that would let passengers embark and disembark without any special airport ground equipment. Once Airbus decides on the engines and wings and dimensions, it could also take-off and land at more runways around the world.
As the manufacturer states in the patent brief:
“The invention provides a double-deck airplane that facilitates passenger embarking/disembarking and cargo loading/unloading operations in order to maximize the number of flight missions carried out in any given time.”
The Tomorrow People-Mover
Criticism aside, Airbus stands firm behind its A380. At the Paris Air Show this June, the aircraft manufacturer described the A380 as still “going strong” ten years after it was introduced, saying it can still “wow” passengers and airlines alike.
To prove the aircraft’s popularity, the manufacturer points out that an A380 is taking off or landing somewhere in the world every three minutes, “and remains well positioned for the future.”
Frank Vermeire, Airbus’ Head of A380 Product Marketing, says of the A380:
“It’s the aircraft that passengers love to fly—the quietest, the most comfortable and the smoothest way to travel. For airlines it’s a flagship product, offering them the opportunity to innovate and enhance the flying experience.”
The manufacturer also believes the A380 is ideally suited for tomorrow’s aviation megacities.
Airbus predicts mega cities will nearly double over then next 20 years, as stated its latest global market forecast.
At least one the world’s aviation megacities, and base of the world’s largest collection of A380s, is reconsidering the whole airport city concept. But airport design aside, Airbus’ Chief Operating Officer–Customers, John Leahy, believes that the industry needs large aircraft to cope with the hike in passenger numbers over the coming decades.
“You cannot just increase frequency, you have to have larger and more efficient aircraft,” he said during a briefing at the Paris Air Show. “That’s called the A380.”
The same could be true of this new Airbus..whatchamacalit. But, for the next generation of flyers, this A3XX-BBT (Bird Beluga Thingie) is a concept far flung from the European manufacturer’s more aspirational aircraft of tomorrow. Maybe, with fast, free Wi-Fi, tomorrow’s flyers won’t care.