When Singapore Airlines first launched its A380s a decade ago, it was quite the spectacle. Though people had long heard about the 800-seat capacity of the A380, Singapore rolled out a relatively-light 471-seat configuration. The vast majority of those seats were obviously coach, but it was those 12 lonely “Suites” (a level higher than First Class) that garnered most of the press coverage. Over the years, Singapore has made several changes to its configurations, most actually decreasing density, but the biggest was just announced last week. This change brings the airline back to 471 seats, but it should improve revenue-generating capabilities. The A380 is just a tough airplane when it comes to making money, but this should help improve the situation. This appears to have been an interesting exercise in aircraft space maximization.
The initial Suites were in a 1-2-1 configuration on the lower deck at the very front of the aircraft. The extra width on the lower deck made that configuration possible, but now Singapore is moving the Suites upstairs. Now the configuration will be an incredibly spacious 1-1 across at the front of the upper deck. With that kind of generosity, it’s no surprise that Singapore would move this upstairs. It is narrower up there, but for a 1-1 configuration it’s still remarkably roomy. I mean, there is both a seat and a bed in each Suite. Look at this:
At the same time, this gives Singapore the ability to dedicate all that dead space on either side of the stairs to the First Class cabin. That is one of the more frustrating design features of the A380 since you can’t put any seats in those areas. Singapore will instead put a gigantic lav there.
These 6 Suites will replace 20 Business Class seats in the front of the upper deck, so it doesn’t seem like an exercise in density off the bat, but it is. Behind the Suites, the rest of the upper deck will be filled with 78 Business Class seats. That area today holds only 66. The new Business Class seat is attractive, and looks like an evolution of the existing seat:
In the press release, this caught my eye:
A unique feature of the new Business Class seat is that it has a carbon fibre composite shell structure, as compared to conventional aircraft seats which use metal as the primary support structure. This thinner base structure allows for better optimisation of the seat and creates more under-seat stowage space to accommodate a full-sized cabin bag and laptop bag or handbag.
That thinner base also seems to allow the airline to reduce seat pitch from 55 inches down to 50 inches. This and some monument reconfiguration (lavs, galleys, etc) makes a big difference. Behind the last door today, for example, Singapore can only fit one row of Business. In the new configuration, it will be able to fit two.
Back on the lower deck, the area that used to hold 12 Suites will now be where the 44 premium economy seats are located. That means everything behind that first door will just be a sea of coach seats. Coach seat pitch remains at 32 inches, but it does look like there’s been some more creative placement around exit doors and in other places to get a few extra seats onboard.
It appears that we’ve come full circle. The new configuration will actually match the 471 seat count on the initial Singapore A380, but take a look at this chart showing some of the evolution.
|Old High Density||12||60||38||333||443|
|Old Low Density||12||86||36||245||379|
Compared to the original configuration, everyone either gets an equal or better experience. There are fewer Suites, but they are far more spacious and luxurious than before. There are now more Business Class seats that, despite the lower pitch, should give just as good of an experience as before, if not better. There is a premium economy section which didn’t exist the first time around. And coach won’t have a measurable difference in space, but it will have upgraded entertainment etc. This new configuration should be able to generate far more revenue than the original configuration thanks to the premium economy cabin and expanded Business Class.
Singapore will put this on its 5 new deliveries as well as on the 14 A380s which it is keeping for the long run. Only the 4 being returned to the lessors (a fifth is already gone) won’t see this interior. It’s never been easy for airlines to figure out the right way to use the A380, but this seems like a big improvement for Singapore both on the passenger side and from a revenue perspective.
(All photos via Singapore Airlines. See more photos here.)