Rumors swirled and now word is out: the Airbus A380 program is officially ending. Once toted as the future of the skies, the double decked engineering marvel failed to ever reach its full potential. After a $4bn flurry of aircraft order cancellations and swaps to more fuel efficient twin engine aircraft, Airbus has announced retirement plans for the program just over 11 years since its triumphant launch. The world of aviation is shifting, and “big” is not the operating word du jour.
“As a result of this decision we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years.” – Tom Ender, CEO Airbus.
The Airbus A380 was created to make every landing slot at hub airports more profitable. If an airline only had access to one daily flight between two major cities, why sell one single deck, when you could sell two?
Thanks to its unique double decker design, the A380 is unmissable. Even the most casual travelers “know that one”, even if it is the only one. With all that space across two entire decks, the distinctive plane created new levels of luxury while bringing back the most revered “golden age” elements of air travel, such as on board bars. Airlines also took things one step further, with private luxury suites.
Upon its launch in 2007, the A380 had competitors running scared. Word was out that airlines such as Singapore, Emirates, Qantas, Etihad and some of the world’s best carriers would craft their worldwide schedules around these big hub services, nearly doubling profits on each flight. At the time, point to point flights between smaller destinations were not en vogue, and all the travel rage was about just how comfortable these new planes were, in every cabin. The plane even made the news for holding more passengers than an American town.
But then 2008 hit. The world financial market crisis left airlines struggling to fill any planes, let alone double decker whales, and while the Airbus A380 is outrageously profitable when full, it’s extremely costly in every other scenario. At the same time, new breakthrough composite materials were creating smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient planes – like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
Unlike the Airbus A380; which carried the equivalent pressure of playing stadium tours everywhere you went, these new composite aircraft were small, light and lean to operate. With less initial route pressure, airlines could use these new planes to push into new markets, launching direct flights to more places where their customers wanted to go.
With only around 250 seats, there was half the pressure, and if the route turned out to be a hit there were always larger aircraft – like the A380- floating around to put on the job. Plus, new advances in technology meant better air cabin pressure, and even fresher air on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350. These new birds were dubbed the first planes to fight jet lag, and people liked that.
Fast forward to today, Valentines Day 2019, and the love affair has officially ended. Qantas cancelled its 8 remaining orders, opting to stick with a 12 strong A380 aircraft fleet, rather than a proposed 20. Emirates, after failed discussions to throw life into the A380 has agreed to shift some of its remaining A380 orders to the A330-900neo and A350 programs. In short: it’s not bad news for Airbus, but it’s terminal news for the A380. The last Airbus A380 will be delivered in 2021 and you’ll still see them grace the skies for years to come, but the program is over.
Long live the whale of the skies.