Is The Airbus A380 Going Away?

The A380 really is something of a technical marvel. The only full double-decker plane for passenger travel, it was cast by Airbus as a game-changer. But now, as sales have slowed, Airbus is considering whether it should discontinue the plane or re-engineer it with more fuel-efficient engines 7 years after the plane entered commercial service.  As noted in the Seattle Times:

While Airbus will break even on the plane in 2015, 2016 and 2017, that outlook doesn’t hold for 2018, forcing the company to either offer new engines to make the A380 more attractive or discontinue the program, Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm told investors at a meeting in London on Wednesday.

His comments come as 2014 shapes up to be the first since the double-decker entered service without a new airliner customer. Its only buyer was a leasing company that has yet to line up a single carrier to take any of the 20 planes it ordered. The backlog remains as thin as it is fragile, highlighted by the cancellation of six jets ordered by Japan’s Skymark Airlines, with two close to handover.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to me. For starters, there isn’t a natural fit for customer demand on flights in the US. While there may be hundreds of folks to move between major cities, the public prefers more frequency. The need to move 500 people or more all at once doesn’t come up often.

It can make a lot of sense for long international flights, especially given a range of over 8,000 miles. It’s one of the reasons Emirates has ordered so many planes.  They’ve done a good job maximizing some routes with these planes, representing almost half of the total orders for the A380 on their own.

Generally speaking, Airbus and Boeing need many years and a large number of airframes sold to justify the up front development costs.  It appears that Airbus still isn’t making money on the planes themselves, which isn’t a surprise.  It can take years to dial in production on a new aircraft to the point that it becomes profitable.  Ending production in the near future likely means significant financial losses.

I’ve ridden the A380 a handful of times and enjoyed every experience.  The upper deck on the A380 is one of the quietest places in the sky (roughly on par with the 787 Dreamliner, IMO).  The width and height allow for planes to get creative with bathrooms, seating and even your own apartment on a plane.  The plane offers a smooth ride and a memorable passenger experience.

In the end, though, there just isn’t that huge a demand for a plane of this size.  The article notes that Airbus thought the global demand was for 1,200 planes.  That surprises me, given that the total production for 747s over the course of 40+ years was 1,500 planes.  With the advent of twin-engine craft that can fly as far as the 747 (see 787 Dreamliner), if Airbus really thought that they would have this demand strikes me as a big miss, either in assuming they could command all the replacements for 747s or that the market would grow noticeably.


HT: Airways News On Twitter

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  1. I’d love to see the A380 stick around, but I think it is a plane for a different era. I think its pretty clear that airlines are leaning more heavily toward long-thin routes, or greater frequencies. The A380 was supposed to solve a problem for airports like JFK, London Heathrow, those that were slot restrained. I recall seeing an article (but I can’t find it at the moment) that talked about LHR’s problems being exacerbated because of the increased trailing distance, the increased time between take-offs after an A380, and I think the A380, even with the “brake to vacate” improvements still takes longer on the runway than other aircraft. Its clear Airbus is trying to fix those issues, but, not sure even fixing those will pull the albatross off their necks.

      1. Trevor, thanks for the article. No question the A380 poses unique problems to every airport it flies. As you, I’d still like to see it stick around. I’ve enjoyed flying it.

    1. Nic, I have a ton of respect for both Ben and Gary. Gary is a self-avowed cyborg who posts like a machine and Ben does an excellent job creating tons of great content. I don’t end up with the same amount of time those gentlemen have to write, so I didn’t have time until last night late to finish up my post. That being said, I did get to spend the whole day at my daughter’s school yesterday and we had a ton of fun. That’s a win for me.

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