In commercial terms, the Airbus A380 has not proven to be as commercially successful as the European manufacturer would have hoped. The airline industry is increasingly moving away from the high-capacity, hub-to-hub model that the ‘superjumbo’ demands. This trend has only increased as coronavirus has caused passenger numbers to plummet over the last 12 months. However, one area in which the A380 has excelled is in its safety record. But why is it so good?
Why is the A380’s safety record so good?
The A380’s impressive safety record is, in fact, partly down to its lack of commercial success, which has seen Airbus only produce around 250 examples. This only represents a fraction of some of the industry’s more popular families, such as the Boeing 737, which has sold over 10,000 units. Correspondingly, the 737 has been involved in far more accidents.
On the other hand, a fatal or hull-loss accident involving the A380 would have a far greater impact on its overall safety record. This is because it would represent a significantly larger proportion of the entire A380 contingent lost to accidents. This is perhaps best exemplified by Concorde. It only had one fatal, hull-loss accident, but it wiped out 1/14th of the entire fleet.
Another contributing aspect is the manner of routes that the A380 serves. It is designed for high-capacity, long-haul, hub-to-hub operations. This means that it will generally only operate one or two flights a day.
Takeoffs and landings are the most common time for an accident to occur. This service pattern means that an A380 experiences far less of these than, for example, a short-haul workhorse like a Boeing 737 or A320 that operates six to eight daily sectors.
Qantas’s uncontained engine failure
The only two notable incidents that have involved A380s have both been uncontained engine failures. The first of these occurred in November 2010, when a Sydney-bound Qantas A380 suffered engine issues after departing from Singapore. The shrapnel from the failed engine also caused a fuel tank fire after it punctured the aircraft’s wing.
Debris from the affected engine fell on the Indonesian island of Batam, although, thankfully, no-one onboard or on the ground was injured. Despite the damage being so extensive that the occurrence was categorized as an accident, rather than merely an incident, the aircraft landed safely in Singapore. There were no injuries or fatalities among its 440 passengers and 29 crew.
A more recent incident involving Air France
More recently, September 2017 saw a Los Angeles-bound Air France A380 suffer an uncontained engine failure just southeast of Greenland. In this instance, the aircraft was approximately five hours into its journey from Paris when an explosion in its fourth engine resulted in an uncontained engine failure.
Thankfully, the aircraft was able to divert to Goose Bay, Canada, where it landed safely.
With just these two notable incidents in almost 15 years of commercial service, and no fatalities or hull-loss accidents against its name, the A380 is a beacon of modern aviation reliability. While we have established that this is largely down to the manner of its operations and the small number produced, it is still an impressive record that reflects the industry’s greatest priority – safety.
Did you know about the Airbus A380’s impressive safety record? Have you ever flown on one of these double-decker ‘superjumbo’ aircraft? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!