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There is so much in the media to talk about the mystery of the Airbus A380 related to Pakistan. Although, there are some facts that cannot be changed it’s more of a financial issue than a political one. Before embarking on the journey to investigate the reasons, it is better to take a quick look at some of the important parameters of the aircraft.
The Airbus A380 is a wide-body aircraft manufactured by Airbus. From the capacity point of view, it is the world’s largest passenger airliner. Airbus started this program to compete with Boeing 747 in the long-haul market. The first prototype was showcased in Toulouse on 18 January 2005. Its first flight took place on 27 April 2005. The first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines on 15 October 2007. It formally entered into service on 25 October 2007.
Airbus A380 Specifications
An A380 has two decks; main and upper. The upper and main decks are connected by two stairways—one at the front end and the other at the cabin’s back. The stairways are wide enough to accommodate two passengers side by side. The cabin has multiple seat configurations. The maximum certified carrying capacity for an a380 is 853 passengers in an all-economy-class layout. A typical three-class layout can accommodate 525 passengers, with 10 first, 76 business, and 439 economy class seats.
The aircraft is equipped with four powerful GP7200 turbofan engines. It has a range of about 14800 km or 8000 nautical miles. It has a maximum ceiling of 43000 feet. The aircraft has an endurance of 15-15.5 hours in a single stretch.
Now we have learned some of the critical features of this aircraft. Let’s converge the discussion to the starting point where we started. Why do A380s not come to Pakistan?
Lack of Infrastructure
It is a matter of shame that Pakistan had no airport to receive an A380 till 2018. The new airport in Islamabad has a turnaround facility for an A380. We have two major hubs in Karachi and Lahore but were never upgraded for this aircraft. The first A380 that came to Pakistan was in 2018 at the new Islamabad airport. It was not a routine flight but a gesture between the two countries to improve the aviation network. Also, it was done to send the message across the globe that Pakistan has the facility to receive an en-route A380 in case of an emergency or otherwise.
It is more about the Operational Cost
The operational cost is the deciding factor for an airline to detail an aircraft type on a particular route. Network routes are planned along the same lines. The operational cost of an A380 is between 26000 – 28000 dollars an hour. Whereas the comparative operational cost for a Boeing 777 is way too less than that. The only reason an A380 is better than other wide-body aircraft is due to its passenger capacity. Due to four engines and higher requirements of thrust, fuel consumption is naturally high. It does affect the operational cost of an airline even in the days of low fuel prices.
The Angle of Discussion
The aircraft was basically designed for long-haul flights. The high volume of passengers traveling in and out of Pakistan is from the Gulf and Dubai. In terms of operational cost, a short-haul flight from Dubai to Islamabad and back is not at all feasible. Rather it will become a big liability for the airline to recover the cost. There are two reasons to look at. First, the passenger volume from Islamabad is not as much as it is from Karachi. There are 10 weekly flights from Islamabad or Lahore to Dubai whereas, there are fifteen weekly flights from Karachi and Dubai. The airline does have some considerations while planning the weekly flights between two destinations.
Read more: New Islamabad Airport – Engineering Marvel or an Operational Failure?
Secondly, considering the passenger traffic from each of these three airports with only one airport at Islamabad capable of receiving an A380, the airline would never plan this option for Pakistan. What advantage does it give to the passenger who comes to Islamabad first and then takes another flight to Lahore or Karachi? Similarly, Islamabad alone does not have enough passengers to fill an A380. Passengers would never opt for traveling to Islamabad first before embarking on their final destination to Dubai. It is hardly a journey of one and a half hours. It is not at all worth the cost for the airline or the passenger.
Flights between UK and Pakistan are heavily populated. They are also long-haul flights but again, the operational cost falls short of the earnings. The same equation applies here when we talk about passenger load from Islamabad. Especially with a Business Class or a First Class, the targeted revenue is difficult to achieve. On the contrary, smaller aircraft with better fuel efficiency and lower operational cost is more viable for the airlines. The preference of airlines going from A380 to A350 or the Boeing 787 or 777 or 777X is the testimony that airlines have better earnings with smaller wide-body aircraft due to cost savings.
Last but not the Least
With the view of saving costs, airlines have already canceled their orders for A380. The last A380 just flew for a test flight from the manufacturer’s facility at the end of March 2021 as Airbus has decided to end the production of the A380. There would be no chance of any A380 coming to Pakistan shortly or further in this scenario. The location of an aviation hub or airport is very critical. In my personal opinion, there could be a slightly better probability of an A380 coming to Pakistan due to more passenger volume if requisite facilities had been available at the Jinnah International Airport. Despite the operational cost, the airline might have been able to earn some better revenue.
Featured Image Credits: Baqir Kazmi @ Plane Spotters Islamabad
Written by guest writer, Faisal Bashir