Triple Decker Plane: the Present and the Future

Aircraft · 4 min read · Oct 05, 2022
triple decker plane

Aviation history has given us the opportunity to see marvelous pieces of engineering. From the very beginning, daring minds have worked on designing and engineering machines that could make the human dream of flying a reality.

A good example of this could be a triple-decker plane, and we will share details of the triple-decker design within this guide. So, if you want to learn more, keep reading to find out.

What is a triple-deck aircraft?

Technically speaking, a triple-deck aircraft is one that is divided into three levels called decks, with each deck prepared for a specific purpose.

Currently, the largest normal commercial aircraft are considered double-decker aircraft. However, they are actually designed with three decks. The top and middle deck are used to accommodate the passengers, and the bottom cargo deck to carry luggage and any other form of cargo. Good examples of this type of design are the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747.

Now, new aircraft could modify those cargo decks to accommodate as many passengers as possible, with some calculations resulting in the possibility of carrying over a thousand passengers, and this is the type of plane many people imagine when they talk about a triple-decker plane.

A KLM's triple decker plane Boeing 747 taxiing on the runway.

Is there a triple-decker plane?

As we have already mentioned, technically speaking, the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747 are triple-decked aircraft when including the cargo decks. Now, if we are speaking about the new aircraft reducing cargo capacity to probably accommodate economy class passengers in the third deck, the answer is no. At least not yet.

The triple-decker plane is a popular myth within the aviation industry. The idea of a passenger model with three levels has been proposed multiple times over the years, but no such aircraft has ever been built.

The need for passenger planes with three levels has never been demonstrated, and the potential drawbacks of such a design, including high costs and increased difficulty of evacuation in case of emergency, make it unlikely that we will ever see a triple-decker plane in the skies.

Another reason that has made it difficult for a commercial plane to be designed as a triple-decked aircraft is the importance of cargo space. A true three-decker aircraft will reduce the possibility of carrying as much cargo as airlines can carry in their double-decker planes.

Double-decker planes are designed to hold as much cargo as possible in their belly holds. This is important because it allows for more efficient use of space and weight, which ultimately results in more payload and the possibility to reach peak fuel efficiency.

Additionally, the double-decker configuration allows for more aerodynamic efficiency since the airflow around the aircraft is less disrupted. This results in less drag, which again translates into better fuel economy.

Ultimately, the double-deck configuration is advantageous for both airlines and passengers alike because it provides greater capacity and increased efficiency. This way, airlines can provide a smoother ride for passengers, thanks to the additional space between the decks. It is no surprise that many airlines are now choosing double-deckers as their long-haul aircraft.

An Emirate's triple decker plane Airbus A380

A fourth cargo deck in a passenger aircraft

Both Boeing and Airbus considered the production of aircraft larger than the existing ones, but they faced the challenge of selling them in a difficult environment where airlines naturally look to decrease their costs when demand gets hit as happened during the recent pandemic.

However, the concept of a fourth deck in a passenger aircraft already exists, but not as a whole new level inside the aircraft. Instead, it is more like a fourth cargo area to increase how much payload the aircraft can carry.

The fourth cargo area in large passenger aircraft is becoming more prevalent as air traffic increases and airlines look for ways to improve structural efficiency. These areas are usually located in the aft section of the aircraft, providing additional space for large or awkwardly shaped items that do not fit in the main cargo hold.

Also, the amount of payload that can be carried on a fourth area varies depending on the size of the aircraft, but it is typically around 10,000 pounds. While this may not seem like a lot, it can make a significant difference when transporting large items such as furniture or heavy machinery.

Moreover, the fourth cargo deck can also be used to store extra baggage, reducing the need for checked baggage fees. As air travel becomes increasingly accessible, the fourth deck will likely become more commonplace, providing an essential service for both passengers and airlines alike.

Now, reducing such an amount of space from a deck in a large aircraft can become a disadvantage. Cargo, including luggage from economy passengers and first class, represents a significant part of ancillary revenues for airlines, so this will limit profitability.

Of course, they would get more passengers if a full third deck is used for that purpose, but airlines would have to aim to get more business class passengers traveling light instead of regular passengers with a lot of luggage.

An Airbus A380 at a jetway waiting for passengers to board.

Will there be an A390?

The idea of Airbus moving from the superjumbo A380 to a bigger A390 has recently become a topic of discussion. It is well known that passenger demand is increasing, and while increasing the number of flights is a solution for airlines to serve such demand, it could also bring another problem in the form of air traffic. So, this brings the solution of having a bigger airplane that can carry a bigger number of passengers to the table again.

Of course, it is not the first time when this has been considered Airbus already considered a model that could carry somewhere between 600 to 1000 passengers in 1996, an aircraft called A2000 in which economy class passengers would sit on the top deck of the three-deck aircraft, business class passengers in the middle deck with three aisles, and first-class passengers, whom beds would be available for, in the lower deck. However, the project was not completed and it ended up giving way to the A380.

Other more innovative and daring efforts have been brought to light, such as the Qantas cargo class aircraft and the AWWA Sky Whale. Yet, all the disadvantages found by manufacturers, airports, and airlines have proven to be difficult obstacles. Even the more conservative Deck III concept has not found its way into production.

AWWA Sky Whale concept aircraft.
Image source:

Final remarks

It is hard to predict what the future will bring. Such a beast like the Sky Whale will need so much fuel to move with the engine’s current technology that no airline CEO would allow its operation. However, the Sky Whale is designed to run on hybrid engines, so time will tell if technological developments will allow us to see one of these giants across the airspace in the near future.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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