At 7AM UTC today, Airbus officially ended the A380 program during their annual shareholder’s press conference.
The world’s largest passenger plane has been mired by controversy since it took flight in 2007. Despite the ability to carry up to 500-800 paying passengers onboard, the plane was simply too expensive, too fuel hungry and too big to be practical in today’s world.
“The A380 is not only an outstanding engineering and industrial achievement. Passengers all over the world love to fly on this great aircraft. Hence today’s announcement is painful for us and the A380 communities worldwide.” – Airbus chief executive, Tom Enders
What are the details?
Whilst the A380 program has struggled to attract orders over the years (with only 313 firm orders to 13 airlines) it has always struggled onwards thanks to an order book that was boosted by Emirates. The middle eastern airline actually put in an order for over 100 of the aircraft and essentially subsidized cheaper prices for many other airlines.
However, the market started to change near the turn of the decade when airlines realized they could buy planes that could fly just as far, but easier to fill up with passengers (and cheaper to fill with fuel). The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was one such plane, that thanks to its fuel economy, could easily rival any other aircraft on the market.
Sensing a change in direction, both Airbus and Boeing started to develop large aircraft that had a focus on fuel efficiency and range. Born from these designs was the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777X, aircraft that could fly a long way but could also land at smaller airports.
But Airbus still had a super jumbo sized problem, having a large factory devoted to a building an aircraft that the market didn’t want. Looking at their order book, they had just under 100 orders yet to be delivered, many of which had not yet started construction. Thus Airbus got in touch with their clients and asked if they would be willing to change the A380 order to another aircraft, such as the A350. This would simultaneously save money for the airline (the A350 is around $100 million USD cheaper) and allow them to wrap up the costly A380 program faster.
And like dominos, the reports started coming in. With Emirates negotiating their orders, Qantas giving up theirs and just today Qatar moving on to another aircraft. With their order book evaporated, Airbus was now free to cancel the program.
What does this mean going forward?
Airbus will complete the remaining orders, then the factories and their workers will either be reassigned to other programs or let go. It is likely that Airbus will transfer this talent, much like they did from the A321neo to the A220. They are well aware that if they give up talent, Boeing will be waiting in the wings (bad pun sorry!) to snap them up.
“We will start discussions with its social partners in the next few weeks regarding the 3,000 to 3,500 positions potentially impacted over the next three years” – Airbus Statment
Airbus will continue to focus on building out their A350 program and possibly developing a future aircraft that can better rival the upcoming Boeing 797.
As for their airline customers, Emirates has decided to reduce its total Airbus A380 from originally 162 aircraft to 123 remaining A380s (Most of which will replace the current fleet operating), and will buy 40 smaller A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft.
“While we are disappointed to have to give up our order, and sad that the program could not be sustained, we accept that this is the reality of the situation. For us, the A380 is a wonderful aircraft loved by our customers and our crew. It is a differentiator for Emirates. We have shown how people can truly fly better on the A380.” – Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman, and CEO of Emirates
But for those of us who have grown up with the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380, it’s time to say goodbye to the world of super large passenger aircraft. We fear that their time may never come again.
“Keep in mind that A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come and Airbus will, of course,e continue to fully support the A380 operators.” – Airbus Statment
Let us know in the comments the first time you ever rode on an A380, we would love to hear your story!