What Airline Was The Launch Operator Of The Airbus A380?

Having the official title of ‘Launch Customer’ comes with both risk and reward. Unveiling a new aircraft type to the world can be a great marketing opportunity that could draw a lot of positive attention and additional business to the airline. Of course, there are also the uncertainties of program delays and unexpected technical difficulties after entry into service. So, which airline took this risk with the Airbus A380 and became the aircraft’s first customer? Let’s find out.

Emirates, Airbus A380, Return
The A380’s first flight was in April of 2005. Photo: Dubai Airports

A380 Program development

The A380 was revealed to the world on January 18th, 2005. Naturally, there was a great deal of hype around the aircraft – the world’s largest commercial passenger jet with two full-length passenger decks. At this 2005 unveiling, the national leaders of Britain, France, Spain, and Germany joined more than 5,000 guests, including customers, suppliers, and hundreds of journalists, to witness the unveiling of the aircraft.

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What will happen to the grounded A380s? Photo: Getty Images

Before the first commercial delivery, there were already 14 launch customers and 149 orders for the superjumbo. According to Airbus, the Reveal ceremony took place in the A380 Final Assembly Facility. It featured fireworks, dry ice, lasers, dancers, and projected images of all of Airbus’ aircraft flying around the hall.

The next significant milestone after the aircraft’s reveal would be its maiden flight. This took place on April 27th, 2005, and lasted for three hours and 54 minutes. This is what Airbus and its test pilots had to say about the flight:

“The flight could not have gone more perfectly. Afterwards Rosay said flying the biggest passenger aircraft the world had seen was ‘like handling a bicycle’. And Lelaie enthused: ‘We now really sense the potential of this magnificent machine.’

So who was the first global launch customer?

While we mention 14 launch customers up above, one airline has to be the first to take delivery of the aircraft physically. For those who don’t already know the answer, it might be a logical guess to say Air France. This is because the country is home to much of the A380’s production and would seem like a perfect fit for national pride.

Alternately, looking at A380 quantities around the world, another safe guess might have been Emirates as the airline operates the world’s largest A380 fleet. However, neither of these airlines has the title of being the first airline to take the quad-jet.

What Airline Was The Launch Operator Of The Airbus A380?
The aircraft was the first Airbus A380 to be delivered, seen here departing for its first flight to Singapore. Photo: Getty Images

Singapore Airlines was the launch customer for the Airbus A380. In fact, the first-ever A380 was handed over to the airline on October 15th, 2007. Given the scale of the aircraft and its groundbreaking achievements, the delivery ceremony was always going to be a big deal.

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Due to the severe impact of global events, many of Singapore Airline’s A380s now sit in the Australian outback. Photo: Getty Images

The ceremony included speeches from Airbus President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders, who called the next-generation jetliner “unquestionably the defining aircraft of its generation.” There were also remarks by Rolls Royce Chief Executive Officer John Rose and Singapore Airlines Chief Executive Officer Chew Choon Seng.

Times have changed

Unfortunately, even before a global health crisis struck the aviation industry hard, the A380 program had been shut down. In fact, in recent years, Singapore Airlines had been divesting itself of its A380s, with one being sold to wet-lease operator Hi-Fly. 

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Piece by piece, the A380 is stripped of its useful parts. Photo: TARMAC Aerosave

9V-SKA, the very first A380 delivered to Singapore Airlines (and pictured above), was stored in 2017 and then sadly scrapped in 2019. While Singapore Airlines is still holding on to its A380s, it only has 12 listed as active, with several jets parked in long term storage in the Australian desert.

What are your thoughts about the A380? Have you flown on any of Singapore Airlines’ units? Share your experience with us in the comments.