• Bloomberg


Airbus SAS is confident of securing a firm order for four A380 superjumbos before the end of March from Skymark Airlines Inc., as it seeks to use the discount carrier to pry open the Japanese market.

Skymark, which operates a fleet of 15 Boeing Co. 737 aircraft on domestic routes, aims to use the double-decker Airbus to connect Tokyo with London. Airbus aims to get a firm commitment from Skymark by the end of the first quarter, according to Kiran Rao, the Airbus executive vice president for sales and marketing in Asia.

“Japanese culture lends itself to the A380,” Rao said in a telephone interview Monday. “If you look at the way that airlines operate the A380, you’ll see that one of the first markets they all went into is Japan.”

While the world’s largest passenger aircraft makes regular appearances in Japan with airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Airbus has struggled for decades to establish a presence similar to that of Boeing in the country. All Nippon Airways Co. came close to ordering A380s in 2008, only to pull out amid financing concerns as the global economy contracted, Rao said.

Skymark said on Nov. 12 that it may order as many as 15 Airbus A380s. The memorandum of understanding with the aircraft manufacturer is for four A380s.

Airbus has just 7.3 percent of the Japanese airliner market at present, with 21 of its planes in Japanese fleets, compared with about 93 percent of the market for Boeing, with 285 planes in Japanese fleets, according to figures provided by London-based Ascend, which collects global aviation data.

Securing a firm commitment from Skymark would help Airbus bolster its order book for the A380, after struggling to sign up new customers in recent years. The four-engine jet, which typically seats more than 500 travelers, has a list price of $346 million. Emirates is the largest single customer, having ordered 90. There are 38 A380s in service globally.

Qantas Airways Ltd. grounded its entire fleet of six A380s on Nov. 4 after an engine blew up in midflight. The jets remain grounded after the incident, in which there were no casualties.

The Skymark A380s will be fitted with 114 business-class seats on the upper deck and 280 premium economy seats below. The first will be delivered in September 2014, Skymark President Shinichi Nishikubo said this month. Nishikubo said he expects to make a profit on the route in the first 12 months after starting the A380 London flights in November 2014.

Rao said Japanese customers would be more inclined to embrace the A380 when operated by a local carrier because of their loyalty to national airlines and their desire for a level of service that can be best offered by a Japanese company.

“They’re very sensitive to flying with Japanese carriers, because they feel that culturally, they’re treated in the right way,” Rao said.

Skymark will compete with British Airways PLC, All Nippon, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. and Japan Airlines Corp. on the London service.

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