The double-decker Airbus A380 is an aircraft that heralded great promise, but was ultimately left behind by a changing airline industry. Nonetheless, the story of its development remains a fascinating one. Airbus formulated the project to take on Boeing’s iconic 747, which had a monopoly on ultra-high capacity services. The A380’s design process saw several interesting ideas put forward, including a twin-fuselage A340 concept.
The origins of the A380
When the Boeing 747 entered service with Pan Am in January 1970, it represented a watershed moment for aviation. The double-decker design offered far higher capacity than existing airliners, and its conspicuous humped silhouette became a hallmark of long-haul travel. It would dominate the ultra-high capacity market for decades to come.
However, by the late-1980s, Airbus had secretly begun planning an aircraft to rival the 747’s dominance in this market. At the 1990 Farnborough Airshow, it announced that it wanted its end-product to have 15% lower operating costs than the 747. Over the next decade, it considered several designs for this project, with some being rather unorthodox.
Two parallel A340 fuselages
According to Colins College, one of the designs proposed for the A3XX was a twin-fuselage design featuring two A340 bodies. The A340 had entered service with Lufthansa and Air France in March 1993. At the time, it was Airbus’s largest jetliner, and effectively doubling its capacity would have seen Airbus rival the 747 in terms of seats offered.
Over the course of aviation history, several twin-fuselage designs such as his proposal have graced the skies. However, very few of these have been airliners, with the design generally being used more commonly among experimental and military aircraft.
Anyhow, those that did carry passengers (such as the Savoia-Marchetti S.55 and S.66 flying boats, and the Blériot 125) were from the inter-war period. As such, a twin-A340 fuselage A380 may have seemed a backward step for Airbus.
In any case, it ultimately elected not to proceed with this design. The European manufacturer eventually settled on a double-decker aircraft which it christened the A380. The ‘superjumbo’ first flew in April 2005, and entered service with Singapore Airlines in October 2007.
The A340 and A380 today
For over a year now, COVID-19 has caused commercial aviation to be a very unpredictable industry. Sudden and constant changes to travel restrictions have seen passenger demand fluctuate, making it very difficult to sustain. This has led to an increasing trend away from larger aircraft, whose capacity is currently superfluous.
As the airline industry’s highest-capacity airliner, the A380 has been a significant victim of this phenomenon. Airlines worldwide have grounded their superjumbo fleets, placing them into long-term storage with little certainty as to when they will return. Air France even took the step of retiring its remaining A380 fleet altogether last year.
The increasing drive towards highly efficient twinjets as the industry’s long-haul workhorses has also seen the A340 fall out of favor. Many of these aircraft have also been placed into storage, with Lufthansa retiring all of its stretched-fuselage A340-600s. Nonetheless, while the A340 and A380 have less of a place in today’s airline industry, seeing two A340 fuselages joined together to make an A380 would certainly have been a spectacular sight.
Did you know about this twin-fuselage proposal for the A380? How do you think the aircraft would have fared had it been built like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!