Emirates A-380s: Crowds for Indians, luxury for Yanks

Emirates Airlines, the world's first carrier that will acquire a fleet of new Airbus A380 Super Jumbos, will have different seating configurations for different sectors on these gigantic airplanes. Separation of passengers may go further than today's standard first class, business class and economy class. While rich Westerners may get bedrooms, bars and ample space in the highest classes, flights to Asia and India may seem like a huge sardine can.

Emirates A-380s will have 644 passengers on its flights from Dubai to Asian cities and the Indian sub — continent, in a two-class configuration — a smallish business class and endless rows of economy seats on both the plane's decks. On flights to London and New York, though there will be fewer passengers, plenty of room, and high-priced premium-class passengers.

Emirates' flights to Heathrow will seat 514, while the New York flights will seat 489. Heathrow flights need a higher capacity than their New York counterparts, because the airline cannot increase flight frequency at this very busy airport. But on the New York route, the airline will give business-class passengers an entire deck of the plane.

Some airlines are even considering offering private cabins for first-class passengers; these can be at the front of the lower deck. The rest of the lower deck can seat about 350 economy passengers. Having only 489 people on an A380 gives Emirates enough room to have over 100 ultra-luxury business class seats, on which the airline can make a lot of money. The routes to India, on the other hand, will emphasise capacity rather than luxury.

The Emirates cabin layout and facilities to be offered is highly secret, but the mock-ups are apparently set up in a hangar at the Toulouse headquarters of Airbus, which is building the A380. Each of the A380's decks is about the size of a 747 jumbo jet, and there is plenty of room for Emirates to provide lounges, rest areas and bars for its business-class passengers.

Emirates is Airbus's most important A380 customer, accounting for one-third of the aircraft presently on order, each of which costs $300 million (Rs1,200 crore). The Dubai-based airline has ordered 47 A380s because it says it needs larger planes to meet the fast rising demand for air travel. Demand is forecast to grow at about 5 per cent a year for the next 20 years, but even faster in Asia and India. China and India's number of air passengers will grow at over 8 per cent a year for the next two decades.

To take advantage of this growth spurt, Emirates has ordered more than 100 aircraft worth $34 billion (Rs1,40,000 crore) to expand its fleet. The first A380 will start flying next August, two years later than scheduled, as a result of production delays by Airbus