16 years ago, on April 27, 2005, the first Airbus A380 took to the sky. The aircraft completed its first test flight, which lasted for 3 hours and 54 minutes, it was meant to be the start of a lustrous future. But less than two decades later, production of the aircraft would be shut down, with one airline carrying the ‘super jumbo’.
Airbus’s answer to the Queen of the Skies
Officially announced in 1990, the A380 was meant to be Airbus’s challenger for Boeing’s incredibly successful 747 programme. The project was initially forecast to cost €9.5 billion, however costs would later balloon to €15 billion, though some analysts say that the true cost could be as high as €25 billion.
The aircraft is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring to ever be built. With its full-length double deck, the A380 is the biggest commercial aircraft ever built and cuts a recognisable figure. Typically carrying over 500 seats, it’s no wonder the aircraft has been nicknamed the ‘superjumbo’.
The wrong aircraft at the wrong time
Whilst the aircraft is a great feat of engineering, the aircraft has not been the success that its designers hoped it would be. By the time that the superjumbo came to the market, demand for quad engine aircraft was plummeting, as airlines increasingly looked to more fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft.
The aircraft’s huge size also meant that it could only fly on certain routes. Destinations were not only limited to those with enough demand to fill a 500+ seater plane, but also to those airports that had the infrastructure to handle such a huge aircraft.
Since the aircraft’s release, sales have been sluggish. The aircraft received less than 300 orders, with over 100 of those going to Emirates. It is unclear what would’ve happened to the project if Emirates had not been such a keen operator of the type.
However, the increased focus on sustainability and the rise of the point-to-point model made the A380 a doomed endeavour. Production of the mammoth aircraft is due to end in 2021.
The end of the superjumbo?
Whilst the Covid pandemic has sped up the demise of the A380, in much the same way as it did for the 747, the aircraft will keep flying until the 2030s at least. Some airlines, such as Etihad and Lufthansa, seem unlikely to return their A380s from storage to the skies, however others have made it clear that they will resume flights with the aircraft type.
Yesterday, Sean Doyle, the CEO of British Airways, unequivocally stated that: “there is a home for the A380 within the BA network”.
In an interview last week, the CEO of Emirates, the main operator of the A380, also said that the airline would “retain [the] A380s for as long as we can”, committing to flying the aircraft for another nine years.
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