Budget aviation to be key market for A380 superjumbo, Airbus officials says

Airbus officials Tuesday said budget aviation will be a key market for the A380 superjumbo, with the company already in talks with Japanese carriers keen to use the world's largest passenger jet for no-frills domestic flights.

Christopher Stonehouse, vice president of the A380 customer program, said Airbus is working with several Japanese airlines who want to turn the A380 into a budget plane seating up to 800 passengers, close to the maximum, in a single-coach class configuration.

"We believe there is a market there (in budget aviation)," Stonehouse told a news conference here ahead of the A380's arrival in Malaysia as part of a three-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific, the jet's first time out of Europe.

"Japanese domestic carriers are looking at up to 800 seats for short-haul flights in their market," he said. "We are working with them on this in terms of design constraints...because you end up with greater fatigue on short-cycle."

He declined to name any carriers. No Japanese airlines have made orders so far for the A380, which eclipses the Boeing 747 as the world's largest passenger plane when it enters commercial service at the end of 2006.

The plane typically seats 555 passengers in a three-class cabin but can be expanded to accommodate 800 people, although most customers so far are opting for less than 500 seats.

Stonehouse said some current A380 customers are also looking at having more than 555 seats, but not near to the maximum. He did not give details.

Seven Asia-Pacific carriers, Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd., Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, China Southern Airlines, India's Kingfisher and Korean Airlines, have ordered a total of 49 A380s. That accounts for 31 percent of 159 firm orders so far for the superjumbos.

The A380 will land late Wednesday at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the last leg of an Asian tour that earlier took it to Singapore and the Australian cities of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Stonehouse said Malaysia Airlines will receive the first of six A380s in July 2007, instead of January 2007.

He said most of the current 16 A380 customers suffer an average six-month delay in delivery and "essentially all" will be compensated based on their contract terms. Airbus has said it expects to pay millions of dollars in compensation.

With production being ramped up, he said "by the end of 2007, we should stabilize production to around four aircraft a month,” reports the AP. I.L.

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