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BA in the market for more A380s; Dubai and Phoenix possible new routes with type

More A380 tailfins could be filling the aprons at British Airways’ London Heathrow hub soon following recent comments from IAG boss Willie Walsh. The oneworld carrier has a fleet of 12 already, which are flown to destinations in Africa, Asia and North America, but where would it use any others, and will Iberia get any?

Following Emirates’ signing of an $16 billion MOU for 20 firm orders and 16 options on the A380 earlier this month, IAG now appears to be taking another look at expanding its 12-strong fleet of the type. “With the new order from Emirates, the issue regarding additional A380s is looking much better for us,” IAG CEO Willie Walsh told an aviation journal. “Now the topic for us is pricing.” So while he haggles over the cost of any new units, we decided to take a look at what BA is currently doing with its heaviest pieces of metal and where an expanded fleet may fly to.

Currently (W17/18) BA flies its A380 fleet to just six destinations in Africa, Asia and North America, offering 45 weekly departures from its London Heathrow hub, according to OAG schedules for week commencing 23 January. While some sectors are year-round A380 staples, like Singapore and Hong Kong, some cities are served seasonally by the behemoth, as this table indicates.

Route S17 Frequency W17/18 Frequency S18 Frequency
Singapore (SIN) 7 7 7
Hong Kong (HKG) 7 7 7
Johannesburg (JNB) 7 14 7
Miami (MIA)   7  
Vancouver (YVR) 7   7
Los Angeles (LAX) 14 7 7
Boston (BOS) 3   3
San Francisco (SFO) 7 3 7
Chicago (ORD)     7
TOTAL 52 45 52
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. Sample week used in each season.

Points to note from the above table include: seven more weekly flights flown by the airline’s 12 A380s during the summer than in the winter; frequencies to Singapore and Hong Kong remain constant year-round; the importance of Johannesburg operations (double-daily) in the winter season; Los Angeles dropping from double-daily A380 operations in S17 to just daily in S18, presumably to allow Chicago to be introduced to this year’s schedule planning.

In terms of where BA could utilise any additional A380s it may first look to upgauge some flights to those destinations it already serves. By looking at S18 schedules for the carrier we can identify where those A380s may well be used on existing city pairs:

  • Singapore and Hong Kong – remaining daily 777 service for possible year-round upgauge;
  • Boston – remaining 25 weekly 747-400 and 777 services for possible summer season upgauge and 18 weekly 747-400, 777 and 787-9 services for possible winter season upgauge;
  • Johannesburg – remaining daily 747-400 service for possible summer season upgauge;
  • Los Angeles – remaining double-daily 747-400 and 787-9 services for possible year-round upgauge;
  • San Francisco – remaining daily 747-400 service for possible summer season upgauge and remaining 11 weekly 747-400 and 777 services for possible winter season upgauge;
  • Chicago – double-daily 747-400 and 777 services for possible winter season upgauge and remaining daily 747-400 service for possible summer season upgauge;
  • Miami – remaining daily 747-400 service for possible winter season upgauge and double-daily 747-400 service for possible summer season upgauge;
  • Vancouver – daily 747-400 service for possible winter season upgauge.

Based on this assessment, the airline could easily introduce an extra 85 weekly winter frequencies and 91 frequencies during the summer. Given the current level of flying activity BA performs with its existing A380 fleet, the airline could well accept a doubling or even tripling in its number of units of the type just to cover these additional opportunities on is present network portfolio. 

Why no JFK A380 services?

Most of BA’s largest long-haul routes in terms of weekly capacity are already using its A380s to some extent, with eight of the airline’s top nine routes utilising the aircraft. The one unserved A380 route which stands out is New York JFK (highlighted in light green), which is by far and away BA’s largest long-haul airport pair in terms of weekly capacity – double the size of second-placed Boston. With 56 weekly frequencies planned to be operated this summer by the airline’s 747-400 and 777 fleets and presently no A380 services at all, it must be a candidate for some of the fresh A380 capacity. This could happen unless there are operational reasons at the airline’s JFK terminal which does not permit BA to use the aircraft there. The remaining anomaly is Vancouver, which is smaller than the first five destinations in the graph below, with a weekly capacity of 3,283 seats. Why this single daily route attracts the use of an A380 during the summer could be down to the product offered on board matching well with the type of customer using the service.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser w/c 14 August 2018.

Looking at which routes the airline may consider introducing the A380 onto (should it acquire any more) from a capacity-alone perspective, the 12 routes above would be viewed as the most likely options for BA. Incidentally, the #2 prospective destination, Washington Dulles, was served by the A380 from S14 up until last July. That said the deployment of aircraft types on a particular city pair goes beyond just the number of seats, issues like market performance (is the route growing? can it take additional capacity?), on-board product (is the aircraft configured to match the route’s demand profile?), operational limitations (aircraft payload/range and airport infrastructure performance) and other factors will all be taken into consideration.

Gatwick A380 operations unlikely; opportunities for Iberia

BA’s other long-haul base is across London at Gatwick. Currently its top three long-haul destinations in terms of weekly capacity (for S18) from the airport are Orlando (3,727 seats), JFK (2,296) and Tampa (2,062). On this basis, given the scale of the airline’s long-haul flying at Gatwick, it is unlikely that it will position any new A380s there. Undertaking the same analysis for Iberia, there are several potential long-haul routes which could justify the use of A380s, based on S18 capacity. All with 5,026 weekly seats (slightly smaller than BA’s capacity to San Francisco and Chicago, both of which use A380s), Iberia’s services to JFK, Buenos Aires Ezeiza and Mexico City could warrant A380 operations. With 4,928 and 3,590 weekly seats respectively, the Spanish flag carrier’s flights to Miami and Santiago in Chile could also handle the A380’s bulk, with Lima, Bogota and Chicago around the same size as BA’s capacity to Chicago. If IAG does decide to place a follow-on order for A380s and intends to use them on new or existing routes, we will remind you of anna.aero’s predictions.


Comments

  1. Correct to say many factors influence capacity allocation. Stronger demand on some routes in winter e.g. JNB, higher seasonality on others like YVR with a stronger summer. JFK doesnt particularly need A380 capacity, its a frequency game for BA with JV partner AA, very high business class demand and 747’s with high J config being deployed. Key factor is using A380 on high volume routes with less frequency sensitivity to free up slots for other use

  2. Martin Cunliffe says:

    Interesting & useful analysis.

    On a slightly different IAG topic,now that Niki has bought back NIki what dies IAG do next to gain LCC access to the germanic speaking countries and Eastern Europe?

  3. James says:

    BA would probably want to use A380 to CPT as well in the winter season, where current double-daily 744 operations plus sporadic extra 2 weekly services added as well (besides the 3 weekly LGW-CPT service).
    However CPT is not A380 compliant yet, but are planning to start runway and taxiway re-alignment within the next 2 years, to accomodate A380.

  4. mark robinson says:

    John Strickland is quite correct in saying that there are many factors involved, especially regarding the demand for high frequency on the JFK route being of key importance.
    I’m not sure how many of the current top 12 non-A380 routes would necessarily be suitable candidates for upgauging. Most in the table are currently operated on a double daily 747/777 basis, with several hours between departure times ex LHR, especially the Indian routes which have late morning and evening departures. If the two daily flights were amalgamated into one single A380 departure, not only would there generally be slightly fewer seats available overall, but opportunities for ‘acceptable’ connecting times would be reduced considerably and as a result, much of the very important existing – and price sensitive – transfer traffic could be lost to other carriers. Yes, this would free up slots, but at what price?
    The alternative would be to upgauge one of the two flights to an A380, but this obviously loses any benefit of slots being freed up. It also pre-supposes that the route concerned could still make money with an additional 1,000 or so seats per week on offer. This could work on some of the routes but maybe not all year round. CPT is also a case in point, otherwise being an ideal candidate once airport compliance is achieved (not sure if the timescales for this would quite fit in with potential A380 delivery dates?).
    The last thing that BA would want is demand so seasonal that an expanded fleet is underutilised for months at a time. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for new aircraft to be shared between BA and IB if demand exists in complementary seasons? One side of the aircraft painted in BA livery and the other in IB? (The precedent has already been set, i.e. BA/SQ colours on Concorde in the mid-70s!) Could we even see a brand new IAG livery…..?

  5. Paul Gibbs says:

    Very good article. The terminal used by BA at JFK is not suitable for A380 handling and they would need to move to another. Other points to consider why more A380s 12 is a small fleet size and punctuality is a issue. Airbus’s competitor simply does not have a product that compares with the passenger experience; it’s not only growing passenger numbers but the size of people is changing. Also I think we may see A380s in the livery of Iberia and Air Lingus.

  6. Peter says:

    I believe that BA’s terminal at JFK cannot accommodate A380s. I don’y know if this will change after the upgrade.

    The second 77W to SIN goes on to SYD and it might be difficult to fill this sector in a 380.

    Maintenance & downtime issues aside, the reason that BA operates fewer 380 frequencies in the winter is that JNB (along with HKG & SIN) effectively requires an aircraft being away from base for two nights so the second JNB rotation ties up two aircraft.

  7. It’s unlikely BA would go double-daily A380 service to Johannesburg during the summer. There’s increased passenger number during BA’s winter schedule due to it being summer in South Africa – with such fantastic weather and an amazingly favourable exchange rate it’s incredibly popular with those wishing to escape Europe’s cold winter for a few weeks.

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