The crown jewel of the Airbus Industry – the Airbus A380 is the biggest full length double deck aircraft also known as the super jumbo with a preferred seating capacity of 545, though certified for 853. It is the world’s largest passenger airliner ever built.
Airbus started the project in the early 90’s to challenge the dominance and might of the Boeing 747.
The A3XX project came into existence in 1994 and the first prototype was unveiled in Toulouse in January 2005, its first flight was on 27 April 2005 and the entire programme cost was an estimated €25 billion! Singapore Airlines was its launch customer in October 2007, closely followed by Qantas, Emirates and British Airways. As of December 2019, 242 Airbus 380’s have been delivered to various airlines with a unit cost of $445.6 million.
Airbus now concedes that its $25 billion investment for the aircraft cannot be recouped. On 14 February 2019, after Emirates reduced its last orders in favour of the A350 and the A330neo, Airbus announced that A380 production would end by 2021.
Emirates was the biggest A380 customer with 123 planes, out of which 115 were delivered. They were banking big on these super jumbos and even built a new concourse solely for the Airbus 380’s and improved their infrastructure in Dubai by launching the Terminal with much fanfare, sighting a very bright future, however this gamble dint pay off.
Filling up the A-380’s in its 2 configurations of 517 pax and 615 pax for Emirates was always a challenge and dint reap the desired rewards. The costs of the new terminals and all the aerobridges was a substantial sum,as this big bird needed atleast 4 aerobridges to be used at a time to shorten the time for boarding and deplaning for better utilisation of the airplane, but it was rarely used to its full capacity or potential. The idea was always a little far fetched and unfortunately the cost of all this infrastructure will not be recovered in the near future, more so post the Covid era.
Similar exercises were carried out in all the countries that bought the A-380 or catered to the passengers arriving and departing on the superjumbo. Some of the airlines across the globe flying the Airbus 380 are Air France, Asiana Airlines, British Airways, China Southern Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Hainan Airlines, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, ELAL, Kenya Airways, All Nippon Airways, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, American Airlines and Thai Airways. The Airbus 380 began operations in India in 2014 with a handful of cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad catering to its requirements of load bearing capacity on the runway, width of taxiways and the runway had to be extended to cater to the A-380. New terminals or modifications to present ones were also made including provisions for multiple aerobridges.
Now Airbus Industries has announced that they will stop production of this big bird by the end of 2021, after just 12 years of launching it. While the pandemic may have accelerated this process there’s also the fact that Emirates has reduced its orders by changing all the remaining ordered A-380’s to the Airbus 350s and 330 Neos, it is a well known fact that it was just waiting to happen.
Emirates were the second customer after Singapore Airlines to induct them in 2008, but with COVID brining all Airlines to a grinding halt, matters may have become worse for the middle eastern carrier and it looks like they will definitely be planning retirements of many of these ageing big birds earlier than they had initially planned. The Emirates Airbus 380 has taken to the skies once again on 15th July 2020, with hope that it can atleast bring back half its fleet for the next few years, but they will certainly come with a short shelf life, unlike Air France who have prematurely retired their 380s in 2020 instead of 2022 as earlier planned.
Qatar Airways has already grounded their fleet until further notice, it remains to be seen what Singapore Airlines and Etihad decide on for the future of their super jumbos as they have always marketed the Airbus 380 as one of their their premium products, hopefully none of them will go the Qantas way, which has already parked all their 380’s in the Mojave desert until 2023.
Well, whatever the future of the 380 one cannot refute that it was the most magnificent plane in the sky. The sheer grandiose of “The Residence” by Etihad, “The First Class” on Emirates or “The First class suite” by Singapore Airlines defined luxury and will be an experience which cannot be replicated anytime soon. The launch of the A380s was a defining moment in the history of world aviation and we will be sad to bid adieu to these awe inspiring birds that made the experience of flying so exciting for us!