The Airbus A380 Was Before Its Time

The A380 was a masterpiece of engineering, beloved of passengers everywhere. But, for carriers, it just didn’t work. Was the A380 just too big, too thirsty and should it never have been built? Or was it just ahead of its time?

The Airbus A380 Was Before Its Time
Was the A380 ahead of its time? Photo: Airbus

We all know the sad story of the demise of the A380. With production scrapped and carriers making plans for the aircraft’s retirement, it seems its days in our skies are numbered. However, was the A380 really such a bad aircraft, or was it just before its time?

What the A380 was designed to do

With a passenger capacity of around 550 in a three or four class layout, the A380 was ideally suited to carry the most amount of passengers over a long distance. At the time when it was designed, it ticked all the boxes for carriers working on a hub and spoke model for their networks.

At airports where slots are super congested, carriers could snag the lion’s share of passengers on every slot they held. As such, the aircraft remains a popular model with hub based airline Emirates. However, even they are looking to other aircraft for their future needs.

Transfer Capital One points for Emirates flights.
Even Emirates are looking away from the A380. Photo: Emirates

When it’s full, the A380 is relatively economical to fly, and has enabled Emirates to become the globally recognizable airline that it is today. However, aside of the Gulf carrier, nobody has been able to make it work. Not Qantas, who with such a far away home turf were predicted to be a massive market for the A380. Not Singapore, not British Airways, not Lufthansa… none of them.

The reason for this was that, by the time the A380 was produced, the world had already begun to shift from hub and spoke to a point to point strategy. Using middle sized widebody aircraft to offer nonstop services between two cities was the way forward, and the A380 just didn’t fit. Frequency trumped capacity, and continues to do so, making giant planes like the A380 and the 747 no longer necessary.

But, could that all change in the future?

Passenger demand is growing

The number of people using air travel is growing year on year. According to the BBC, this is because,

“…the world as a whole is becoming more prosperous and air travel is becoming more affordable to the rising middle classes.”

In fact, in the latest Airbus Global Market Forecast, they predicted that the middle class will almost double over the next 20 years, and by 2037 will represent 57% of the population. That gives a pool of potential flyers of a staggering five billion people.

Airports around the world are struggling to keep up with the rising demand for air travel. Although many new airports are being built and existing ones expanded, in some of the world’s biggest growth regions the capacity still lags behind the availability of slots.

China Southern A380
Growth regions with congested airports could make more sense for the A380. Photo: Wikimedia.

India, China and other nations in the Far East are set to see explosive growth over the next decade. As such, perhaps there is a market for an aircraft that can seat a ton of passengers and take them anywhere in the world? In India, for example, key hubs at Mumbai and Delhi are both already completely slot deprived; as more people demand to travel to and from these cities, could the A380 see a revival?

However, as previously noted, unless it is absolutely full, the A380 will struggle to keep up with the efficiencies of more modern jets. Both the A350 and the forthcoming 777X will go some way towards rivalling the A380’s capacity, and at a far lower operating cost too.

The future of the A380

Although no new A380s will be built, many will continue providing services well into the next decade. What becomes of them after they reach retirement age remains to be seen, although Airbus have stated they will continue to support the second hand market with parts and maintenance as required.

Hi Fly A380 in flight
Hi Fly are keen for more A380s for their wet lease services. Photo: Hi Fly

Wet lease operator, Hi Fly, are confident in the abilities of the A380, planning for a second aircraft to join their fleet possibly as early as next year. Perhaps they are on to something with this.

As airports become more and more congested, perhaps an aircraft like the A380 will begin to make sense. Being able to shuttle hundreds of people a great distance could become a priority, particularly for carriers in the Far East. The future of the A380 remains to be seen, but perhaps this once hated giant jumbo will find its place in the future aviation marketplace.