When it flew for the first time just over a decade ago, the Airbus A380 was famously hyped for being a bird so enormous that infrastructure at airports would have to be expanded to accommodate it.
Airbus has now announced that the superjumbo has only a couple more years to live – the world’s largest passenger airliner will not be produced after 2021.
Emirates, the A380’s biggest customer, will take delivery of 14 more aircraft over the next two years. The Dubai-based carrier has restructured its order, cutting the orderbook with Airbus from 162 aircraft to 123. As a consequence, and given the lack of order backlog with other airlines, Airbus will cease deliveries of the A380 in 2021.
The over 500-seater double-deck aircraft, which came at a list price of $446 million, inspired awe among passengers and aviation enthusiasts, but put serious pressure on airline accounts.
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The fuel-guzzling luxury jet also faced powerful competition from dual-engine long-range aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and A330neo, and the Boeing 787 and 777 families, all of which made more financial sense for carriers.
When it first took off in 2007, the A380 was expected to cater to a market of 1,500 giant aircraft connecting global hubs such as London, New York, Dubai and Tokyo. But as of now, Airbus has sold only about 250 A380s, and has never made a profit on the aircraft.
As orders shrank, Airbus has been cutting employees, and the future of jobs at the company is now heavily dependent on the success of its new generation of aircraft.
Emirates has decided to replace its A380 order with A350s and A330s, and will take deliveries of 70 of these smaller aircraft in place of 39 A380s.
The A380 is seen as being complicated and expensive to build, with aircraft parts being manufactured in France and Germany (fuselage), Spain (tail section), and Britain (wings), and the final assembly and finishing being done in Toulouse and Hamburg.
However, what really killed the plane was the fact that the industry, already leaning towards more efficient aircraft when the A380 first took wing, has in the years since made a decisive shift away from giant machines to smaller, wide-bodied jets.
Indeed, even as Airbus conceived the A380, its competitor, Boeing, was working on plans for its own superjumbo. But the American company took the call to give up that idea and instead put its money on the smaller and more efficient 787 Dreamliner.
Airbus did have a plan to revamp the A380 to make it more efficient, but did not have an orderbook that would justify the investment.
The stoppage of production does not, however, mean the majestic beast will become extinct in the skies. The existing fleet of A380s, in the service of carriers such as Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, British Airways, and Air France, will continue to operate for at least another 10 years.