The Airbus A380 is a plane that has sadly been rendered rather obsolete by the ongoing pandemic. However, even before COVID-19 brought the airline industry to a near standstill, the European manufacturer had already canceled its production with around 250 examples built. Nonetheless, the A380 remains a fascinating aircraft whose size draws attention wherever it goes. But how much did the ambitious superjumbo cost?
How much did the program cost?
Developing an aircraft as large as the A380 was always going to be an expensive task for Airbus. As well as physically building the aircraft, the program would also demand a lot in terms of its research and development aspects. After all, Airbus (or any manufacturer) had never produced a passenger airliner quite like the A380 in terms of its size and structure.
While the world had already seen a full double-decker airliner as early as the 1950s in the form of the Bréguet 763 Deux-Ponts, this was a propeller-driven aircraft. Similarly, although the existing Boeing 747 was a jetliner with a second passenger deck, this did not extend along the full length of the fuselage like the A380. It was, and remains, a unique and groundbreaking design.
When Airbus voted to launch the A380 program in 2000, its projected cost was €9.5 billion ($11.3 billion). However, as the company got further into the development of the aircraft, the costs of the program grew. Indeed, it reached a point where, in 2006, Airbus elected to cease publishing the program’s reported cost.
At this stage, the figure had reached a total of €10.2 billion ($12.2 billion). A decade later, by 2016, the European manufacturer re-estimated that the A380 program had cost it in the region of $25-30 billion. This was despite it having been kick-started by €3.5 billion worth of loans from the UK, France, and Germany in 2000. In February 2019, Germany approached Airbus regarding €600 million ($716 million) from this that was still outstanding.
Alongside the cost of the A380 program itself, it is also worth considering what airlines had to pay to get their hands on the superjumbo. Simple Flying explored the various list prices of the Airbus portfolio earlier this year. In doing so, we found that, during its production, the double-decker quadjet was listed for $445.6 million.
This is somewhat higher than the Boeing 747 family aircraft with which Airbus the designed A380 to compete. When the production of the Boeing 747-400 ceased in 2007, its list price was around $228 million ($289million today). Meanwhile, the next generation 747-8 has a list price of $418.4 million. Of course, the A380 offered operators greater capacity than these aircraft, but its high cost meant that it had to be well-loaded to make money.
Of course, it is worth remembering that airlines rarely pay these sums. Instead, by placing larger orders for multiple aircraft, they can score a fairly generous discount. Indeed, Airbus claimed in 2019 that its customers received an average discount of 50% off its list prices.
On the other hand, although the A380 was an expensive aircraft, airlines hoped that operating it would actually save them money. Indeed, Air France claimed that its operating costs would be 20% lower, saving it as much as €12-15 million ($14.3-$17.9 million) a year.
Costs to airports
It wasn’t just Airbus and the A380’s operators that had to dig deep financially when it came to putting the superjumbo into use. Indeed, the world’s airports had never had to handle an aircraft of its size before. After all, it is approximately 30% larger than the Boeing 747-400. This meant that airports had to make modifications for the enormous jetliner.
According to Stantec, these modifications included longer and wider runways and taxiways, more gate space, and more jet bridges to help board the behemoth. These costs quickly added up for airports and authorities. For example, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey is said to have made $175 million worth of infrastructure alterations for the aircraft.
The price of retirement
In May 2020, Air France reacted decisively to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic by retiring its remaining Airbus A380 fleet. While the health crisis accelerated this process, it had not been far off in any case. Indeed, it had only planned for the superjumbo to serve the airline until 2022, just 13 years after it first flew for the French flag carrier.
While the aircraft may have been a loss-maker, retiring it also poses financial difficulties for airlines. Indeed, staying with Air France, the carrier announced in February 2020 that to withdraw its A380 fleet would cost it in the region of €370 million ($399 million at the time).
At the time of Air France’s announcement, it had already taken a €126 million impairment charge as part of this process. It attributed €52 million of this figure to the aircraft’s accelerated depreciation. The remaining €74 million related to retrofit programs, spares, and contract penalties. As such, in the future, airlines will have to think carefully and remember Air France’s high costs when considering prematurely retiring their superjumbos.
Overall, it is a shame that the amount invested in the aircraft and related infrastructure changes did not yield more extensive production of the A380. Nonetheless, it seems that we will be able to enjoy the presence of the type’s existing examples for some time yet. Indeed, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark plans for his airline to fly it until the mid-2030s.
Were you aware of the costs associated with the A380 program? Have you ever flown on Airbus’s double-decker ‘superjumbo’? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.