A global range A380 comes into view with new RR engine

The significance of Rolls-Royce discussing a new super-efficient large jet engine with Airbus (and one might expect Boeing) which would be available from 2020 cannot be under estimated.

IF this were to go ahead, it would transform the A380 program and add immense upside to the soon-to-enter- service new twin engined wide body Airbus A350 program.  It would also no doubt have important benefits for Boeing, although not necessarily Rolls-Royce, by bringing forward similarly dramatic engine improvement ambitions by GE, which is the sole engine supplier for current and future versions of its highly successful and relevant 777 airliners.
Rolls-Royce is proposing a more powerful, and even more economical and less fossil carbon emitting engine than the Trent XWB engine is has on the A350 series currently, and that engine in turn is derived from the engines it now flies, when it wins the order, on Boeing 787s and A380s.
What would such an engine do to an A380, which can currently fly for 16 hours with a full payload thanks to recent minor wing tweaks, an increase in gross eight to 575 tonnes, and some other refinements that now apply to all newly delivered examples of the large double decker Airbus?
It would, simplistically speaking, make it able to fly the same load for 20 hours, not quite what is needed to reliably do Sydney or Melbourne non-stop to London. However the A380 already has a wing that was deliberately built too large for current requirements, in that it has unused space set aside for additional fuel reserves, something Airbus also built into current A330-300s.
If the additional power of the proposed ‘Advance’ RR engine was such that an A380 could take off within the parameters of today’s operations with an additional 5% or more of fuel, and let’s say, the wing tips were reworked with ‘super’ sharklets, then there would be no city pair on earth too far apart for it to fly with a commercially attractive payload.
Provided of course that such a payload existed. But if the marketing forecasts of Airbus and Boeing are correct, and they each have very good track records on this, such demand will indeed arise, and not just on minor routes like Sydney-London, but in circumstances where the fuselage is stretched to fit in more seats at the cost of ultra long haul range, for routes where today’s 500 seat A380s face slot constraints and a 600 or 750 seat version of the jet is needed.
Emirates has forcefully expressed its wish for a larger,  or same sized yet more efficient,  but not necessarily longer ranged version of the A380 timed for the 2021 advent of the super-sized 440 seat or so 777-9, for which it placed an order of 175 units at last November’s Dubai Air Show. Where it also bought another 50 A380s, of which 25 will be replacements after 2020 of its oldest A380s, dating back to 2008.
And while Emirates has different needs to most carriers, it has an astonishing food chain in operation, where smaller jets like the 777 are used to grow routes to A380 sized routes, because the airport slots are not available to add more 777 flights. And, size does deliver lower seat costs for distance flown. Nothing is as cheap to operate as a full A380 for the distance today. And the four engined A380 comes with one unexpected advantage for Emirates and other rivals using the ferociously hot ME hub airports, which is that there are no twin engine takeoff limitations imposed by lifting off at 45C or more ground temperature to fly for 15 or 16 hours.
However Emirates wants the superior engine technology anticipated on the 777-9s to be also applied to the A380s, and has a ‘weakness’ for operating 440 seat future 777s alongside future 640 seat A380s, or words to that effect.
What Emirates wants,  it has so for gotten. (Or in the case of Qantas, been given for nothing, but that is to digress.)  And it is not on its own when it comes to ambitions with money to boot, which means it has company in pressing the pedal when it comes to technological innovation in its dealings with airframe makers like Airbus and Boeing, or engine makers like GE and Rolls-Royce.
Think carefully about this. Any airport today that takes A380s or the even longer Boeing 747-8F can take a 700 seat three or four class A380. The wing span will be the same.  The body will be less than 20 metres longer assuming the fuselage is stretched by adding more frames. The facilities exist today, even if in some cases, they could be improved, especially when it comes to taxiways and intersections, but that goes for todays 777s and A346s too.
However RR’s so titled ‘Advance’ program also has implications for the mid sized A350 program. Airbus has covered off on the top capacity but yet to be built member of the Dreamliner family the 787-10 with its entry model the A350-900. This initial A350 has the capacity of the 787-10 but with more range, and four years sooner to market, but this is not necessarily a good thing if you don’t need the range, in which the Boeing may have a more efficient airframe over shorter distances.
With its A350-1000 stretch, due in service in 2017, Airbus almost covers the capacity of today’s 777-300ERs but with fuel savings because of its more extensive use of lighter composites. In theory the ‘Advance’ engine could give it fly-anywhere non-stop range, although there would be some twin engine related constraints. However it would also allow a hypothetical A350-1100 stretch, intended to approach the 777-9 in capacity but not range,  to do both.
In theory this all looks good. In the real world, one in which it may all come true, it would not however come true unopposed.
There would be a response from Boeing, and what we would most likely see, is a third decade 21st century boom in ultra efficient airliners that will, inevitably, be the last of their type, as new airfoils and revolutionary new hybrid-electric ‘distributed’ power systems, are rendered possible by advances in fuels and materials.

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