# 526  

April 2005



Europe's Airbus "Megaplane" Fails to Earn Green Stripes


by Ryan Balis

 

All eyes in Europe this week are on the maiden flight of the long-anticipated, double-decker Airbus A380 super jumbo jet, which took place April 27 at Toulouse-Blagnac International Airport in southwest France.

Though a boon to Europe's airline industry, the over 800-seat "green giant" raises deep environmental issues of importance on both sides of the Atlantic.1

After all, when President Bush asserted that the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change would hurt the United States,2 a fury erupted.3 European leaders in particular scorned the President,4 charging that America was refusing to reduce gas emissions to combat the still unproven theory of global warming.5

President Bush, however, does not stand alone. His position follows an overwhelming 95-0 vote in the U.S. Senate, which has the constitutional duty of ratifying international treaties such as Kyoto.6 Senators noted that the treaty lacks emission controls for rapidly expanding economies such as China and India.7

But considering much greenish tilt and shock over American excess in Europe, it was ironic to see nearly 5,000 guests - including four European political leaders - cheer January's lavish rollout of the Airbus' A380 super jumbo jet in southern France.8

"When we look at this monument of human achievement, we see that Europe can't be stopped,"9 boasted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the crowd.

The massive jet - a German, French, British, and Spanish collaboration apparently subsidized by billions of European government loans10 - is set to become the world's largest passenger jet when it enters commercial service, expected in mid-2006.11

The "megaplane" reflects Airbus' business strategy to connect travelers between large flight hubs such as London and Los Angeles.12

Airbus13 and its backers promote the A380 as one of the most environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient aircraft in the world.14 They claim it will halve noise and improve fuel efficiency by 15 to 20 percent over Boeing's 30-year-old 747.15 The reasoning is that by carrying more passengers farther on less fuel per passenger, the environment wins.

But a look at Airbus' performance statistics casts doubt on this logic.

Airbus steadfastly insists that, despite the jet's oversized frame (it measures 845 square meters and weighs roughly 280 tons when empty),16 the expected fuel consumption is 2.9 liters of fuel per passenger per 100 km. traveled.17 These measurements are based on flying 555 passengers with no luggage or cargo at a cruising speed of 900 km.18

But with air carriers selling an average of roughly 70 percent of available seats,19 supporters of the A380 may have difficulty explaining how increasing the number of jets in the sky is good for the environment.

Jean-Marc Jancovici, a French scientist, calculates that if Airbus' business projections are met,20 "the number of air passengers will triple in the next 20 years."21 He thus points out that meeting passenger demand with "super-sized" jets would cancel out gains made to fuel efficiency.22

It is also reasonable to figure that per-passenger fuel consumption will vary widely depending on the number of passengers, cargo and distance traveled. Long-distance flights with a full passenger load would increase per capita fuel efficiency.23 (Proportionally, a greater amount of fuel is consumed during take-off and landing than during cruising.24)

Such worries have yet to carry much weight. Having a European creation topple the venerable American 747 is a source of great pride for many European Union leaders.25

Although Airbus became the world's largest commercial airline producer in 2003,26 rival Boeing has chosen a different track: To build a new generation of smaller, lightweight and fuel-efficient jets.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is the brainchild for this strategy. Set to be unveiled in 2008, it will allow passengers to fly directly between many of the world's largest cities on 20 percent less fuel than on a comparable aircraft.27

To a degree, the airline makers' opposite approach is simply the latest skirmish in the decades-old transatlantic air war. But any claim of a European "moral advantage" on environmental concerns is suspect.

The behemoth Airbus A380 has yet to earn its green stripes.


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Ryan Balis is a policy analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected].




Footnotes:

1. At maximum capacity, industry analysts believe the A380's dual-decks can hold 840 passengers in a single class configuration (555 people in two classes) - over a third more seating than a typical Boeing 747-400 carries.

See "Airbus A380 Overview," Aircraft-Info.net, available at http://www.aircraft-info.net/aircraft/jet_aircraft/airbus/A380/ as of March 22, 2005; "Largest Passenger Jet Unveiled," CNN.com, January 18, 2005, available at http://www.cnn.com/2005/BUSINESS/01/18/airbus.380/ as of March 22, 2005.

The Boeing 747-400 seats 416 passengers in a typical three-class arrangement but can hold a maximum of 524 in two classes. Boeing does not publish passenger configurations for a single class. See Boeing Co., "747 Technical Specifications," Boeing Technical Specifications, available at http://www.boeing.com/commercial/747family/technical.html as of March 22, 2005.

"Green giant" from Airbus Co., "A380 Family," Airbus Media Centre Library, available at http://www.airbus.com/product/a380_backgrounder.asp as of March 22, 2005.

2. Christopher C. Horner and Iain Murray, "Why the United States Should Remove Its Signature from the Kyoto Protocol," CEI Monthly Planet, Oct. 1, 2004, available at http://www.cei.org/pdf/4254.pdf as of March 22, 2005.

3. Steven Martinovich, "Enforcing the Kyoto Protocol," Washington Times, Nov. 24, 2004, available at http://www.washtimes.com/op-ed/20041123-080536-6648r.htm as of March 22, 2005; Edmund L. Andrews, "Frustrated Europeans Set to Battle U.S. on Climate," New York Times, July 16, 2001, pg. A3.

The Economist writes: "So when Europeans search for a common foreign policy, they naturally apply the principles of multilateralism... Hence their almost hysterical reaction to Mr. Bush's rejection of Kyoto." See "Wanted: New Rules of the Road," Economist (UK), June 9, 2001.

4. The BBC wrote: "There has been widespread European outrage at Mr Bush's decision to turn his back on the Kyoto agreements aimed at ending global warming." See "Blair Urged to Tackle Bush over Kyoto, BBC (UK), April, 13 2001, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1275244.stm as of March 22, 2005.

See also: Toby Harnden, "US Rejects Global Warming Pact," Daily Telegraph (UK), March 29, 2001, available at http://www.millennium-debate.org/tel29mrch3.htm as of March 22, 2005.

5. James K. Glassman and Sallie L. Baliunas, "Bush Is Right on Global Warming; ...Not that Reporters Would Understand," The Weekely Standard, June 25, 2001, pg. 26.

See also Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, "'Petition Project on Global Warming," available at http://zwr.oism.org/pproject/ as of March 22, 2005.

6. Senate Resolution 98, United States Senate, 105th Congress, 1st Session, July 25, 1997, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/KyotoSenate.html as of March 22, 2005.

7. Charli E. Coon, "Why President Bush Is Right to Abandon the Kyoto Protocol," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1437, May 11, 2001, available at http://www.heritage.org/Research/EnergyandEnvironment/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=8763 as of March 22, 2005.

8. Erika Lorentzsen, "Airbus Unveils the Massive A380," Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2005, pg. E2, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19497-2005Jan18.html as of March 22, 2005; "Largest Passenger Jet Unveiled," CNN.com, January 18, 2005, available at http://www.cnn.com/2005/BUSINESS/01/18/airbus.380/ as of March 22, 2005; "Airbus Shows Off New 'Superjumbo' A380," Associated Press (ABC News), Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/print?id=420752 as of March 22, 2005.

9. Erika Lorentzsen, "Airbus Unveils the Massive A380," Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2005, pg. E2, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19497-2005Jan18.html as of March 22, 2005.

10. Newsweek reports: "The U.S. Special Trade Representative says Airbus has received $15 billion in 'launch' subsidies for its planes. Total subsidies are hard to determine because they take many different forms." See Robert J. Samuelson, "No Free Launch," Dec. 13, 2004, available at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6652967/site/newsweek/ as of March 22, 2005.

The subsidy issue is now the subject of an US-EU trade dispute currently being negotiated by each side's trade representatives. See "Boeing Profit Down Sharply," Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2005, pg. E2; Noelle Knox, "A380 Makes Massive Debut," USA Today, Jan. 24, 2005, available at http://www.usatoday.com/money/biztravel/2005-01-16-a380-usat_x.htm as of March 22, 2005.

11. Erika Lorentzsen, "Airbus Unveils the Massive A380," Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2005, pg. E2, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19497-2005Jan18.html as of March 22, 2005.

12. Jorn Madslien, "Airbus to Unveil Giant A380 Plane," BBC News, Jan. 17, 2005, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4174729.stm as of March 22, 2005; "Airbus Shows Off New 'Superjumbo' A380," Associated Press (ABC News), Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/print?id=420752 as of March 22, 2005.

"Megaplane" taken from "Sara Kehaulani Goo, "Airbus Hopes Big Plane Will Take Off, Beat Boeing," Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2004, pg. A1, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9900-2004Dec18.html as of March 22, 2005.

13. An Airbus press release states: "The A380 will carry more passengers further allowing for growing passenger numbers and helping to ease an increasingly congested environment . . . . the A380 provides the smartest and most economical solution to growing air traffic and airport congestion." See Airbus Co., "A380 Double Deck Family-Flagship of the 21st Century," Airbus Media Centre Library, June 2004, available at http://www.airbus.com/media/a380_family.asp as of March 22, 2005.

See also Airbus Co., "A New Way to Fly Gives Airlines a New Way to Make Profits," Airbus Media Centre Library, available at http://www.airbus.com/product/a380_economics.asp as of March 22, 2005; Airbus Co., "The A380: the Largest, Most Advanced and Efficient Commercial Airliner Ever Conceived," Airbus Media Centre Library, available at http://www.airbus.com/product/a380_backgrounder.asp as of March 22, 2005; "Collaboration: Pan-European Collaboration Delivers a Futuristic Double-Decker Airliner," The Manufacturing Alliance, Jan. 31, 2005, available at http://www.themanufacturer.com/uk/detail.html?contents_id=5239 as of March 22, 2005.

14. Chew Choon Seng, Singapore Airlines' chief executive, said: "We'll be replacing older large aircraft with a more modern, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly aircraft, compliant with the most stringent noise and emissions regulations." See Erika Lorentzsen, "Airbus Unveils the Massive A380," Washington Post, Jan. 19, 2005, pg. E2, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19497-2005Jan18.html as of March 22, 2005.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saee Al Maktoum, chairman of Emirates, praised the A380: "It provides lower seat-mile costs and carries more passengers futher and consumes less fuel than its competitors." See Airbus Shows Off New 'Superjumbo' A380," Associated Press (ABC News), Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/print?id=420752 as of March 22, 2005.

15. Airbus Co., "A380 Double Deck Family-Flagship of the 21st Century," Airbus Media Centre Library, June 2004, available at http://www.airbus.com/media/a380_family.asp as of March 22, 2005.

The first Boeing 747 entered commercial service in 1970. See Boeing Co., "The Boeing 747 Family - The Right Choice for the Large Airplane Market," Background Information, available at http://www.boeing.com/commercial/747family/background.html as of March 22, 2005.

16. The Spiegel Online, a German publication, reports: "At the end of 2003, internal documents from the development department obtained by DER SPIEGEL showed that the operating weight of an empty A380 was 290 tons -- 14 tons more than originally planned . . . . Since then, the Airbus people have succeeded in trimming some of the baby fat. 'We've gotten the weight down to just five tons over the planned value,' says Lufthansa's [representative Joachim] Schneider." See Gerald Traufetter and Ulrich Jaeger, "The A380 Unveiled: Waiting for Take Off," Spiegel Online (Germany), January 18, 2005, available at http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,337279,00.html as of March 22, 2005.

17. Stefan Lovgren, "Airbus Unveils A380 'Superjumbo' Jet," National Geographic News, Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0118_050118_airbus.html as of March 22, 2005.

Fuel consumption figures also reported in Gerald Traufetter and Ulrich Jaeger, "The A380 Unveiled: Waiting for Take Off," Spiegel Online (Germany), January 18, 2005, available at http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,337279,00.html as of March 22, 2005.

18. Document provided to the National Center by Airbus upon request for direct operating costs of a 555-seated Airbus A380-800. A representative at Airbus confirmed the test parameters by phone.

Cruising speed taken from Stefan Lovgren, "Airbus Unveils A380 'Superjumbo' Jet," National Geographic News, Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0118_050118_airbus.html as of March 22, 2005.

19. Bill Brubaker, "Flyi to Cut Fleet of Jets, Workforce," Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2005, pg. E1, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45702-2005Feb22.html as of March 22, 2005.

In 2002, a team of Yale researchers found that the average passenger capacity filled, or 'load factor', for 15 domestic and international carriers to be 73 percent. See Brad Anen, et al., "Domestic Airlines Initiation of Coverage 'Cash and Burn...'" Report of the Yale School of Management, September 23, 2002, available at http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=6&q=http://www.som.yale.edu/AnalystReports/dyn/download.php%3Freportid%3D197&e=9732 as of March 22, 2005.

20. Industry analysts estimate that for the A380 to break even, Airbus will need to sell between 250 and 325 planes, and airliners must sell 323 seats per each flight. See Michael Hennigan, "Launch of Airbus A380 May Doom the Boeing 747, An Icon of American Technology for A Generation," Finfacts Ireland Business and Finance, March 9, 2005, available at http://www.finfacts.com/irelandbusinessnews/publish/article_1000163.shtml as of March 22, 2005; Peter Pae, "Supersplash for Airbus 'Cruise Ship in Sky,'" Los Angeles Times, Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://www.chicagotribune.com/chi-0501180279jan18,1,853638.story?coll=chi-site-nav&ctrack=1&cset=true as of March 22, 2005.

21. Quote found in "Airbus Success Will Help Drive Global Warming, Says Expert," AFP (France), Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://science.news.designerz.com/airbus-success-will-help-drive-global-warming-says-expert.html?d20050118 as of March 22, 2005.

22. "Airbus Success Will Help Drive Global Warming, Says Expert," AFP (France), Jan. 18, 2005, available at http://science.news.designerz.com/airbus-success-will-help-drive-global-warming-says-expert.html?d20050118 as of March 22, 2005.

23. The A380 has a maximum flight range of 15,000 km and a maximum fuel capacity of 310,000 liters of kerosene (see Airbus, "A380 Double Deck Family," and Stefan Lovgren, "Airbus Unveils"). Based on these assumptions, a quick calculation shows the per passenger fuel consumption to be 310,000 liters/(15,000 km x 555 passengers) = 0.037 liters. But if only 300 passengers fly, per capita fuel consumption jumps to 310,000 liters/(15,000 km x 300) = 0.068 liters.

A similar type of demonstration was performed by Jean-Marc Jancovici, "Should We Encourage the Growth of Air Trafic [sic]?," Manicore.com (France), Aug. 2004, available at http://www.manicore.com/anglais/documentation_a/airport.html as of March 22, 2005.

24. Jean-Marc Jancovici, "Should We Encourage the Growth of Air Trafic [sic]?," Manicore.com (France), Aug. 2004, available at http://www.manicore.com/anglais/documentation_a/airport.html as of March 22, 2005.

25. Writes Robert J. Samuelson: "Created in 1970, Airbus reflects Europe's ambitions and pride . . . .But there's another truth: Europe has an industrial policy to put Boeing out of commercial jet business. 'We will give Airbus the means to win the battle against Boeing,' former French prime minister Lionel Jospin once said." See Robert J. Samuelson, "No Free Launch," Dec. 13, 2004, available at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6652967/site/newsweek/ as of March 22, 2005.

See also Sara Kehaulani Goo, "Airbus Hopes Big Plane Will Take Off, Beat Boeing," Washington Post, Dec. 19, 2004, pg. A1, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9900-2004Dec18.html as of March 22, 2005.

26. "Boeing said yesterday it delivered 285 planes last year [2004]... That was up from 281 deliveries in 2003. Airbus delivered 320 planes last year, up 5 percent from 2003." See "Airbus Beats Boeing for Second Year in Row on Jetliner Deliveries," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 6, 2005, available at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/206729_boeing06.html as of March 22, 2005.

27. Noelle Knox, "A380 Makes Massive Debut," USA Today, Jan. 24, 2005, available at http://www.usatoday.com/money/biztravel/2005-01-16-a380-usat_x.htm as of March 22, 2005; Boeing Co., "Boeing 787 Dreamliner," Boeing Background Information, available at http://www.boeing.com/commercial/7e7/programfacts.html as of March 22, 2005.

 


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