Among airlines, Emirates is conspicuous for its wide use of the Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger plane.

With 142 either delivered or ordered, Emirates has bought nearly half the superjumbos sold by Airbus, which spent $45 billion developing the aircraft, an investment it has little chance of recouping.

American carriers have avoided the plane, and Japanese airlines have bought just a handful.

Conceived as a way of moving as many as 850 passengers in a dense layout or around 500 in more comfort (including some in the absolute luxury of first class), the plane fits the Emirates model well.

Advertisement

"We cobble together a very formidable network globally and as we feed incremental flights into it, we need a big aircraft on the trunk operations," says the airline's president Sir Tim Clark.

"If you take New Zealand, for instance, when we depart our A380s out of Dubai we have about 60 flights feeding it, all of which will give us business in some shape or form. It's a great aircraft to deal with the demand that we face - it may not be good for everybody but it is for Emirates," he says.

"If you get the timing right you will fill those aeroplanes very easily; [with] some of them you don't have to do much - just open the doors and they will come."

The airline got the first of its A380s in 2008, and some passengers still book to make sure they fly on the double decker.

When Emirates recently had to drop a Birmingham-Dubai service for two months, one customer went "absolutely nuclear" and demanded that he was provided with a taxi to Manchester to get on one of the superjumbos, says Clark.

"Even today, eight years after we took the thing, people are really fed up if they get on a 777 - which is a great product," he says.

Clark was heavily involved in the design of the A380 interior in the early 2000s. The starting point was putting the premium cabins upstairs.

"The A380 gave us the opportunity and go to work and make this an aeroplane to do great things for the premium cabins and also the economy cabin. We could have made a very compressed economy offering but because we knew they were going on long range missions we concentrated on that," he says.

We cobble together a very formidable network globally and as we feed incremental flights into it, we need a big aircraft on the trunk operations.

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

Upstairs, he designed showers for first class passengers and a bar. Willing workers at Airbus' Hamburg plant "quietly'' built a wooden mockup of the bar to show to the planemaker's sceptical bosses that it could be done.

"We designed it as a temporary measure to take out in 96 hours and put eight business class seats back in. In about three or four months it became quite clear to me that if we did that I would be lynched - I've never seen anything like it."

At list price, an A380 sells for more than $620 million, though airlines get substantial discounts.

Smaller planes such as Boeing's Dreamliner, the 777 and Airbus' A350 have been much faster sellers as they fit more airlines' business models.