The Airbus A380 is a marvel of engineering. It’s one of the few Airbus planes I look forward to flying. If you’re sitting up the upper deck you really have to pay attention to me when the double-decker is firing up the engines for take-off. It rolls smoothly and the 4 engines quietly lift this behemoth into the sky.
While a marvel, the humongous jet has been slow to catch on with airlines. There aren’t many gates that can accommodate it. Low fuel prices and gate availability have reduced some of the need for the density an A380 can provide. It’s really hard to fill that many seats on the majority of routes.
Airbus has publicly said that they needed a substantial order soon to keep the program active. Emirates was really the only airline seriously considering a substantial (more than one or two) order. Earlier this morning it was reported that Airbus got the lifeline it was looking for.
The announcement for 36 planes looks bigger than it actually is. Only 20 of those are firm orders, but that’s enough to keep the line moving another 3 or 4 years. That’s apparently enough to get Airbus to commit to keeping the line running for 10 years, what Emirates was seeking.
The order is being described as a lifeline for the A380 program. It does appear the Emirates order “saved” the A380 program like an ER paramedic shocks a gunshot patient’s heart back to life. Once the heart is beating, there’s still bleeding to be dealt with.
There aren’t any other airlines lining up to order A380s right now. There’s a legitimate argument to make that everyone is scared that the program was going to die. That could be the case, but there are other issues. The A380 isn’t the most fuel-efficient in the world. With planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and even Airbus’ own A350, airlines can choose a plane with range and significantly less capacity.
The A380 poses serious size issues as well. It gums up taxi ways at airports and clogs gate areas for the couple of handfuls of airports it fits at right now.
Airbus has been waving their hands around and claiming that they plan to make the A380 more fuel-efficient. That could help the program a bit. But, adding seats won’t appeal to that many new customers. Emirates may like it, but they already booked their order.
The Final Two Pennies
Given the development costs of the A380, I doubt the program ever breaks even. For now, though, the line will keep moving. For aviation geeks, that’s a cool thing. Because, flying on the double-decker is still pretty darn fun.
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