In February 2019, Airbus announced that it would cease production of its giant A380 aircraft by 2021. The aircraft had often been considered popular with passengers, but airlines were increasingly beginning to drop the widebody A380. This is a problem that has been exacerbated by the current world climate.
The most significant blow for the existence of the A380 was when the primary customer of the type, Emirates, canceled an order of 39 of the aircraft. The Dubai carrier instead opted to receive 40 A330-900s and 30 A350-900s at the time. This order became for 50 Airbus A350-900s at last year’s Dubai Air Show. This A380 order cancelation prefaced an announcement from Airbus, in which it stated that it would build at 17 more A380s before closing the production line for good.
Emirates would be the recipient of 14 of these aircraft, with another three going to All Nippon Airways. As things stand, ANA has taken all three of their A380s, so only eight Emirates aircraft remain undelivered. But the increasing tendency of airlines to drop the A380 meant that the aircraft was no longer a tenable production model for Airbus, even though, including these 14, expected aircraft deliveries had exceeded 250.
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While Airbus considered the decision to discontinue the A380 to be painful, the trend toward smaller and more efficient aircraft ensured the demise of the jetliner. And several other airlines had also canceled orders for the Airbus A380 ahead of the Airbus announcement.
Shortly before Airbus decided to discontinue the A380, Lufthansa opted to return six of the 14 aircraft they already had in service. This year, it immediately retired these six A380s, while the remaining aircraft may not return to use.
February 2019 proved disastrous for the A380 from an order perspective. Qantas canceled an order for eight of the jetliners at the start of the month before Emirates cut its order by 39 aircraft.
Going back further, there were many other cancellations of the A380 before it was eventually discontinued. These are shown below:
- November 27th, 2006 – FedEx Express canceled 10 A380s
- March 2nd, 2007 – UPS Airlines canceled 10 A380s
- July 14th, 2008 – Etihad canceled four A380s
- January 15th, 2009 – Air Austral canceled two A380s
- March 8th, 2011 – ILFC canceled 10 A380s
- September 20th, 2013 – Lufthansa canceled three A380s
- December 31st, 2013 – Kingfisher Airlines canceled five A380s
- July 29th, 2014 – Skymark Airlines canceled six A380s
- February 5th, 2015 – Kingdom Holding Company canceled one A380
- February 10th, 2017 – Air France canceled two A380s
- March 7th, 2018 – Virgin Atlantic canceled six A380s
Evidence at the time indicated that although the A380 is considered a great aircraft by many observers, it merely wasn’t profitable to produce. The Airbus A380 program never managed to break even before the manufacturer pulled the plug. In 2015, the manufacturer managed to break even on each air frame’s production cost.
Too much capacity
Ultimately, the Airbus A380 had too large a capacity to make it a viable candidate for most routes. The aircraft was super for British Airways on high-density routes from London Heathrow, such as Los Angeles. It would allow the carrier to condense a pair of flights operated by two smaller aircraft into one run by the A380. This, in turn, freed up slots for other routes.
However, the A380 did come with its downsides. If one was ever pulled from service at short notice fully booked for starters, at least 100 passengers wouldn’t fit on a replacement aircraft unless it were another A380. This is hard for any airline other than Emirates to accomplish, given their limited fleets.
However, the above would only be a problem if you could fill the aircraft. With four massive engines powering the aircraft through the sky, it is a gas guzzler. This means that without a high passenger load, the aircraft becomes uneconomical. Given the current circumstances filling an Airbus A380 to the brim isn’t the most straightforward task. However, Emirates will soon offer A380 flights to London four times per day once more.
There is also an environmental aspect to consider. Before the current situation, airlines were already very conscious of their ecological footprints. In a day and age where the industry is trying to show that it is responsible and doing its bit, it is hard to justify operating such emissions heavy aircraft when far cleaner new generation two-engined aircraft such as the Airbus A350 exist.
When will the A380 disappear?
Thankfully, Airbus A380 lovers don’t need to worry that the aircraft will disappear from the skies any time soon. Indeed, as mentioned, Emirates is still to take delivery of eight A380s. Even if it only operated them for five years, that means the A380 would still be running in 2026.
However, with such a large fleet, the retirement of the giant won’t happen instantaneously. When smaller A380 operators such as Air France retired their fleets, they lost some capacity from their overall fleet. However, if Emirates were to retire its fleet overnight, it would instantly lose over half its capacity.
Do you think the airlines mentioned above were right to cancel their Airbus A380 orders? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!