Airbus is exploring fresh ways to improve sales of the world's largest passenger jet after receiving a potentially crucial signal of support from at least one of its engine makers, industry sources said.
Faced with patchy demand for the A380 superjumbo, Bri-tain's Rolls-Royce has indicated it may be willing to upgrade its Trent 900 engines to help Airbus dig its way out of a recent sales trough, the sources said, asking not to be named.
However, no decision has been taken and Airbus has said its priority is to keep carrying out gradual improvements to the 525-seat aircraft, which entered service in 2007. A spokesman for Airbus said the European company was "always looking into all kinds of avenues to keep our aircraft at the cutting edge" and listed areas continually being reviewed, including latest developments in engine technology. "There are lots of studies but they do not necessarily need to become true," he added.
The A380's four engines are supplied by Rolls-Royce or rival US consortium Engine Alliance, owned by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.
Engine Alliance said it was pursuing sales campaigns for contracts to power the aircraft, which is sold separately from its engines even though both are included in the A380's $414 million official sticker price.
Two industry officials described speculation of a relaunch of the A380 with modernised engines — duplicating a strategy that has proven astonishingly successful for the world's most popular short-haul passenger planes — as premature. Airbus said it aimed to get 750 total orders when it unveiled the double-decker passenger jet.
But 13 years after it was first launched, sales have remained at less than half that level. As of end-2013, Airbus had orders for 304 superjumbos.
By taking advantage of marked changes in fuel efficiency that become available to engine makers every 10 or 20 years, on top of regular improvements of 1% a year, "re-engining" can lower fuel costs and inject new life into old jet designs. One hurdle is securing the agreement of engine makers who must make investments of hundreds of millions of dollars for the most modest modifications.