Airbus to cram more seats into A380 superjumbo

Story highlights

  • Airbus says it will unveil new economy class seating configuration that puts 11 seats in a row of its A380 superjumbo
  • Extra seats will be added by partially raising the floor of the cabin to maximize fuselage width
  • Analyst says extra seats show economic realities have caught up with luxury plans for the huge aircraft

It's already capable of carrying more passengers than any other commercial aircraft, but the Airbus A380 could be about to squeeze in a few extra.

In a move that adds a dose of economic reality to airline dreams of luxuriously pimped superjumbos, the plane's manufacturer says that next week it will unveil a new 11-seat-row economy-class configuration.

By raising the three seats next to each window a few inches to take advantage of extra fuselage space, Airbus says it will create enough room to accommodate five people in the middle of the plane.

While the prospect of spending a long haul flight stuck in the middle seat might be unappealing for passengers, Airbus says it makes sense for airline revenues.

"Several customers are saying they are interested in looking at ways of making the aircraft more productive," Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon tells CNN.

Experts say sales of the A380 have been disappointing since it was launched in 2007.

Murdo Morrison, editor of Flightglobal magazine, says the new configuration indicates that financial realities are catching up with airlines, which once promised to fill their A380s with casinos and double beds.

He says sales of the European manufacturer's flagship have been disappointing since the plane was launched in October 2007.

"With the price of fuel going up so much, the focus for airlines is economizing and trying to get as many passengers as possible into an aircraft," he tells CNN.

Raised capacity

Dubon says the extra seats, which won't compromise on the existing 18-inch width of current chairs, would raise economy-class capacity by 7%.

This would mean 30 more seats in a standard cabin layout, but even when full would put the A380 well short of its maximum load capacity.

"The middle seats will be the last ones filled," he says, adding that the center seats could prove popular with families.

Airbus declined to reveal which airlines were pushing for increased capacity, but says 11-seat mockups will go on display at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, from April 8-10.

Morrison says that while few passengers will rush to claim the center seats, there will be no significant increase in discomfort.

Airbus says it's been approached by airlines looking for ways to make the A380 more cost effective.

"The drawback of any five-seat block is, if you are in the middle, you've always got two people to climb over, but you've already got that if you're in the window seat of a block of three," he says.

"Ultimately it is the airline's decision -- they have to get the balance between adding seat capacity and what the passengers will put up with.

"If you pack in too many it becomes claustrophobic and that could have a detrimental affect on the airline."