Has The Boeing 777X Killed The Airbus A380?

Rumors have been circulating for some time that the A380 production is shutting down. However, right now is probably the closest we’ve ever been to cancellation becoming a reality. With multiple airlines pulling out of A380 orders and no more orders incoming, Airbus have got a tough decision to make, and soon.

But what really caused the failure of the A380? After all, it is a legendary aircraft, the biggest the world has ever seen with bars and rest areas built into the cabins. Its spacious, comfortable experience made it a favorite with flyers all over the world, so why wasn’t it the success we’d all hoped?

There are multiple reasons the A380 has failed, from problems in filling it to capacity to the sheer size of the aircraft and the way that limits where it can go. But we think we know the real reason it failed, and it’s all Boeing’s doing.

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The 777X
Did the 777X kill the A380?

The new 777X promises to carry a similar number of passengers but in a much more efficient manner. It has better pressurization, ergo happier passengers, and can land almost anywhere that a 737 can. It’s caught the eye of Airbus’s biggest (only) A380 customer, Emirates, who ordered 120 off the bat, and a further 30 later on (and still want more).

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So, did the 777X put the final nail in the coffin of the A380? Let’s take a look.

What does the 777X do better than the A380?

In some ways the A380 is the better aircraft, at least on paper. It’s a real crowd pleaser as far as passengers are concerned, and it’s operational stats don’t look bad either. When full to capacity and in its eye-watering 853 passenger configuration, no other aircraft can come close in terms of cost per seat, per journey.

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But that doesn’t take into account other factors. Operating with a passenger load of 853 would increase weight, both from people and baggage, which reduces efficiency and range. It would also require more crew members to remain compliant with crew to passenger ratios, which would make the flight more expensive to operate.

Most carriers operate the A380 with two or three classes, seating around 550 – 600 passengers. Even then, it can be difficult to fill all the seats, which adds massively to the overheads of running a flight.

The A380 was designed to alleviate infrastructure problems. In 2007, when it entered commercial service, airports were congested and the A380 was seen as the solution to the problem. However, it inadvertently created a whole new set of problems for airports itself.

The biggest downside of the A380 is the enormous size of the aircraft. It’s sheer dimensions mean entire airports need to be reconfigured to accommodate the big bird. It’s kind of ironic that an aircraft designed to overcome infrastructure challenges has served to generate a whole bunch of infrastructure challenges of its own.

Preparing an airport for the A380 can cost millions. New piers need to be constructed, separate gates installed, and runways extended to allow the giant jumbo to land. An example is at Copenhagen Airport, where their A380 modifications cost the airport in the region of $50m.

As a result, the A380 is limited to service in just 60 cities worldwide. While Airbus argue that these 60 cities are strategic hubs, the lack of flexibility in routes has been a major turnoff for carriers.

The huge wingspan required to fly an aircraft that seats 400+ passengers perhaps contributed to the downfall of the A380. But it’s something which Boeing have overcome with a nifty little bit of design work.

777X folding wing
The wing is the thing…

The 777X is capable of landing at pretty much any airport which can service the 777 and 787, which, to be frank, is most of the important airports worldwide. This is because the 777X has been built with unique folding wingtips, which put it in the ICAO code E, which means there are no gate or runway modifications required.

As Boeing say, “The Wing is the Thing…”

In a last ditch effort to attract more orders, Airbus announced a revamped version of the A380 at the Paris Air Show 2017. Dubbed the A380 Plus, it includes new winglets for aerodynamic improvements, which Airbus said would drive down operating costs by around 13% per seat.

However, Boeing’s achievement of widening the choice of city pairs with the 777X totally trumps the Plus. It’s a case of wing tips beat winglets, hands down.

Then there’s the real rub. With low order numbers and high production costs, the A380 costs almost $450m for an airline to purchase. The 777X, in contrast, is being retailed at between $395-$425m, and airlines can probably get a good discount if they’re placing a large order. That’s a huge draw for carriers, and one of the reasons the 777X beats the A380 in our opinion.

What do A380 owners think of the 777X?

The 777X is nipping at the tail of the rapidly departing A380 as we speak. Within weeks of the new model being announced, many A380 users had already placed their orders. Some of the first orders came in from Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Singapore, all of whom are already A380 customers. In fact, the only early order-placer of the 777X who doesn’t have A380s was Cathay Pacific.

The 777X
The 777-9X and 777-8X have proved popular with A380 operators

The sad fact is that the Airbus A380 was designed for a problem that doesn’t really exist anymore. When it entered commercial service 12 years ago, the world’s airports were at capacity. Commercial hubs were overcrowded, and carriers just couldn’t put on enough flights to meet the rising demand. A larger aircraft was predicted to be just the ticket, carrying more passengers further all in one go.

However, since then huge investments at airports all over the globe have improved the situation. Capacity is still close to peak, but advancements in efficiencies of smaller jets, not to mention in air traffic control systems, mean it’s cheaper and easier to fly two, three or even four smaller aircraft than to operate one or two A380s.

Passengers want to get where they’re going, with no interruptions. Nobody wants to transit through a crowded mega hub; they want to ride a plane which takes them from point to point, which is not always possible on the super-sized jumbo. So, the A380 is out and the 787s, A350s and the forthcoming 777X are in.

Airbus took a gamble with the A380. Whether they took too long in bringing it to market or just underestimated the investment powers of airport developments doesn’t matter. The days of the A380 are numbered, and Simply Flying believe that the 777X had a hand in taking it down.

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Duncan Sutton

The 380 is quite simply the best aircraft in the sky. I always check to see if I can book one when I fly….I avoid 777s wherever possible….cold and noisy aircraft! Truth is the 380 was before its time….its not a failure either….its a great plane and hopefully its time will come!

Jeffrey H

If they actually stop production, they will never resurrect the 380. Way too expensive. They would need some giant order that will never come. I built 747’s for 25 years. That’s also going away at some point. But what a run! Sucks to see the two big models shrinking into history.

John

An Emirates order for an A380 NEO would pay for the development cost… A larger A380 with better engines would completely change the situation, with a better passenger milage cost than any other airliner. Airbus was screwed by motorists. They said that they were not developing new technologies, while they were doing something completely new for the 787. Additionally, it arrived at the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008, with a dropping air transport, especially for freight which was first planned. And this is bad luck, and for Boeing good luck as they offered an airplane being fuel efficient… Read more »

Brian

Jon, have you seen Boeing’s finances? Their public documents don’t break out the 787 numbers, so am wondering how you know the loss per plane. Their public doc filings show they are crushing it in commercial aviation, and their top brass is laying the great numbers squarely on the 9 and 10 variants of the 787, and the 737MAX. Airbus doesn’t really have an answer for the 787. The 330 neo is inferior, and the 350 is in a higher $ and size bracket. Airbus doesn’t have an answer for the 77X, as the 350 is too small (and nowhere… Read more »

John

Your intervention is interesting. To you, all Airbus aircrafts are inferior. However, if you look at the orders, since 2014 (announcement of the A330 NEO), the A330 CEO and the A330 NEO had much more orders than the B787. The reason is not that the A330 is superior. But that depending on the strategy of the airline, sometimes the A330 is more adapted than the B787. Plus, how can you assess the efficiency level of the A350 and the B777X which didn’t fly yet. Again, both manufacturers have different strategies, and the B777X might be too big for many airlines… Read more »

Hoy Hoy Sum

Well the development of 787 will definitely be high as the 787 is not an “old” design. It is a new technology that has never done before. Composite body and composite wings. More electric drive instead of “leaky” complicated hydraulics system. Lithium ion batteries technologies, even it is problematic at first but they manage to iron out plus they know a trick or two to incorporate to future design. Tecnologies that boeing has introduced in 787 is now being used in their 777X and 797. Therefore 777X and 797 development cost will reduce cause they have the know how. I… Read more »

Jordan Davison

Yes, it is an economical failure.

John

No, commercial failure but not economical. And the B787 is a commercial success and an economical failure. The A380 covered today all the R&D costs, and the program doesn’t show losses anymore. The B787 is differing a lot of costs, and in 2016, 33 billions were still not accounted on the 787 program ! Initially, the development for the 787 was intended to cost 5.8 billions, it ended up being 32 billions. If you consider 1400 orders as it is the case today, the R&D cost would have been 4.14 millions per aircraft. But today it is 22.85 millions per… Read more »

Jordan Davison

You’re absolutely correct. I misused the term “economical” for “commercial”

John

But even the commercial, if you consider the overall portfolio of airbus and boeing, with the A380, Airbus broke the monopoly of Boeing with the 3 largest aircraft (B747, B777-300 and B777-200), as the A340 was not good enough. If you take the number of A380, all those orders would have gone to Boeing, and you can multiply the number by almost 2, with 0 for Airbus. So Boeing would have had its cow-milk and could sell cheap B737, hurting the good selling A320 familiy. So all together Airbus did a good move, even if it could have been better…… Read more »

Jim Bean

If it’s that great, why is it dead and being replaced by 777!?!?

Parker West

Great comment, reality is a tough nut for our fellow commentators to deal with. This Airbusblindness is like a religion to them. The 330ceo, neo, no big deal, doesn’t compare well with the 787
No mo 380 dudes, deal with it

John

I might join you if the ticket is the reasonable. So, we can have all the empty seats to you and me.

Maximilien Gilles

I totallly agree with you, Mr Dutton! Thé A380 is the king of the skies, silent, comfortable, easy to fly. Passengers love it , personnally I dream to fly on it and I would ne ready to conclude a deal with thé Devil to fly one of these flying wonders. I flew once on a Qatar Airways Boeing 777, it was a very nice experience. I like the 777, but the A380 is the most iconic plane ever built. Airbus planes are fantastic, but the firm Airbus was very poorly ruled, whereas Boeing manages to sell its aircraft like little… Read more »

Anthony Soprano

The 380 program has been a financial disaster for Airbus and should never have been built. Even when it was conceived, the days were numbered for 4 engine transports, but they still went ahead with the program costing in excess for $20B. If it wasn’t for the upfront loans from the UK, France, and Germany, the 380 program would never have taken off. Now they’ll going to shut down the program at 300+ aircraft. In 10 years, they’ll only be a handful left flying on routes that can fill almost every seat – likely seasonal routes to the Middle East.

Ahmet Krom

Unfortunately he figures seem to bear the claims of the article. I love the airbuses and hate 737’s with their cramped quarters and a history of disasters. Plus Airbus is European initiative at work and provides an alternative to suffocating monopolism of American Boeing in the air. Lets hope they can counter with a viable alternative. Its good to have choices.

brian maris

Ahmet
1. Airbus has more crashed than Boeing/MD per million flights
https://www.quora.com/How-many-plane-crashes-does-Boeing-have-compared-to-Airbus
2. The article does not use 737 as a comparison
3. Cramped seating is not determined by the Mfr but by the the individual airline
4. Airbus is not going out of business anytime soon; their other aircraft are quite viable; plus they purchased Canadian mfr Bombardier, who just completed a large Delta sale
5. Euro aircraft actually flew the first commercial jets…and their performance left the door open for Boeing and MD
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Comet
6. Concord

Parker West

Apparently the string of A320 crashes, A330 crashes/near crashes under mysterious or unknown causes hasn’t caught up with this fellow, or his Hate American Times chooses to avoid such things.
Jun 1, 2009 AF447
Oct 7, 2008 QF72
May 19, 2006 MS804
Dec 28 2014 QZ8501
July 17 2006 TAM3054
May 3 2006 Armavia967
Aug 23 2000 GF072
Jan 20 1992 IFT148
Nov 27 2008 XL Air check out flt
Jan 26 1988 AF Air show demo, AirBus self-flying ability

Elmore S

Lol, love the anti American/Boeing sentiment. News flash, Airbus has failed to innovate since the A300. Everything since then has been a copy of an American plane (A380 is a rip off of the MD-12) or just a re-engine of an earlier design. And comparing a legacy 737 to a A380 makes no sense, a 737 Max is far superior to the Airbus equivalent (A320).

John

Well, that is interesting to read, however, it is not that true. I will be very factual. When you mention the failure to innovate, here are the major innovations of Airbus on the civil market: – fly-by-wire, A320 first civilian aircraft using it – if you look at the composite materials use, the A300 is the first one using it for the structure. The A330 / 340 used 10% of FRP, 12% for the B777, 25% on the A380, and the first airliner with the central wing box of CFRP. Then the B787 with 50%, and the A350 with 53%…… Read more »

Parker West

You got something against generic passenger aircraft, Bud?

Tony

re the 737 max as superior to the 320 neo, surely you must be eating your words now… wake up. for Boeing, profits are more important than safety…

veteranflyer

Ahmet, the statistics on the 737 show it’s the safest aircraft ever produced for mass air travel. There’s no ‘history of disasters’. While I don’t like flying the older models either, the later (not latest) versions are way better.

John

The B737 has more accidents than the A320. But there are more flying, and the average age of the flying ones is much older. So to compare both statistics, it should take into account the same generations. But the reality is pretty simple, both manufacturers provide very safe airplanes. The “only” risk is always the first operational years of a new aircraft where undetected flaws will start to appear. The B737 Max and the B787 showed some problems. However, even if the 737 Max crashed once, it isn’t an unsafe aircraft. The training for the transition was not thorough enough… Read more »

John

Well… The A380 ended up being a good project as the program is now profitable. Commercially it’s not such a success… BUT, you need to consider the whole range of aircrafts of both Airbus and Boeing to really assess the strategy of one aircraft. Airbus had indeed a problem… The B747 was the only jumbo jet. This was problematic because it was a cash cow for Boeing. No competition means making a pricing based on the economic of airlines. So making it slightly cheaper on the passenger milage cost. It was bringing strong and steady profits to Boeing (great strategy).… Read more »

John

What would be interesting for you would be to read about is the happiness index. First, you consider EU as one entity. Each country as very different policies… If you go to Northern Europe which is quite socialist, but in a European democratic way, the innovation is pretty good, and the global happiness is really high. The USA isn’t such a happy country despite being very rich. Is it because there is a huge gap between poor and rich people? Is it because even people with 3 jobs working 70 hours a week can’t even afford health care? … The… Read more »

Hoy Hoy Dum

Stay to the topic of planes!

Thanh Tran

A380 : more comforting and roomier but limited airport and destinations. B777X: leaner and smaller aircraft but provide better point to point service. B747-8 is just too big already and is able to find another place to service cargo industries. The point is bigger is not always the better choice, I think A380 will starve of and be gone in the 10 years. The A380 program is just too expensive too built and the ego of European aircraft maker has been accomplished: we have built a biggest commercial airplane in the world ( at cost of more than $208 billions… Read more »

Steven Smith

Boeing elected not to compete in this niche market. Wisely it would seem. As for comfort, I have never experienced the discomfort expressed by some comments here. I have flown both company’s planes and find them about equal in comfort. Airbus planes are great planes, well built and just as good as a Boeing plane. But, in the A380’s case Airbus made a mistake years ago in even producing it, their market strategy failed and now they will be producing parts and supporting this airplane for years to come. Draining cash and resources.

Theodore von Karman

Boeing beat Airbus in a business sense; that is clear. The two companies had two starkly different views of the future, and it turns out that Boeing’s was the more prescient one. As for which aircraft is better…well, that’s a different question. I prefer to look at that solely on which aircraft performs its intended mission best, from a technical standpoint, regardless of worldwide economies and business cases. And, on that point, I think it’s very difficult to say. From what I read, the A380 is a great airplane that does its job well. Same goes for the 777. I’d… Read more »

T Boyer

The Airbus fans don’t get it. It’s not that the A380 isn’t an excellent aircraft. It’s the cost of putting a seat in the air, plain and simple. Four engine planes will never be cost competitive with twins. But even leaving that out of it, the A380 is now almost a 20-year-old design. Its wings and engines represent the best technology available in the early 2000s. The 777x benefits from dramatic advances in engine technology composite fabrication. There’s no way the A380 could compete without significant redesign and modernization — which isn’t going to happen because Airbus has already lost… Read more »

John

Unfortunately, you remove a bit too much of the complexity of the reality. You can’t have this general rule that works in any case. But you’re right on the fact that the commercial success depends on the cost to bring people from one place to another. … The A380 could become at a very similar potentially even cheaper cost / mile pax. Today’s wing isn’t optimal for the size of the A380, it was expected to be used for a larger version, but because of the 2008 financial crisis, it never happened. But by adding new generation engines, increasing the… Read more »

James Strange

It seems so strange the polarization of aviation enthusiasts to either Boeing or Airbus. I mean, I have my favorites, but I don’t vilify the other manufacturer. Both Airbus and Boeing are innovators, they push each other and we all benefit. The commercial aircraft which grace our skies are amazing beasts-of-wing. Airbus gambled on four engines and big hubs for its widebodies. It didn’t work out. Boeing gambled on two engines and (lobbied successfully for) extended ETOPS and it came up aces. The A350 appears to be excellent competition to both the 787 and 777x…let them have at it. I… Read more »

John

I definitely agree on what you’re saying. The competition between both is great fir airlines and passengers. The differences offer them better solutions, and the competition increases the quality of aircrafts and the interest in investing for innovation. Without the A380, no B747-8. Without the A350, no B777X (or not that early). And without B777, maybe no A350… . However, when we talk about success vs failure about the A380 and the B787, we need to differentiate commercial success and financial results. The A380 is a profitable program. The B787 program is still carrying huge losses. And both are great… Read more »

Paulo M

This article, without once mentioning the 777-300ER, is, essentially, aviation clickbait for the A380 & 777x equally. What killed the A380 was really what came after the 777-300ER: the Dreamliner, the A350, the A330neo, and, of course, the 777x. But, the 777-300ER, with its nearly 850 sales – more than all the 350 seater or greater quads combined since 1997 – proved the point-to-point model. But, while the -300ER was unchallenged by the A340-600, or anything else, the 777x will almost certainly not have the same success.

Anthony Stockle

It will be a sad day if the magnificent A380 is no longer to be made. I have flown many long haul routes (New Zealand/Australia/Far East) and the comfort and quietness of this aircraft is way above the Boeing 777 which I find noisy and cramped. It is such a boon to be able to stretch your legs and walk to the rear and socialise in the bar area. No other plane has this welcome facility. Please BA/Emirates et al do not turn your back on this great comfortable aircraft.

Arash

I think one big factor is being missed by most including the author of this one: the ETOPS certification for above 180 minutes. This started in 2009 and culminated with the 330 minutes certifications given out in 2011. This put the kill bullet into 747, A340-600 and A380. As a passenger I feel much safer with a four engined aircraft than flying mid-Atlantic with a 777X at 4-5 hour flying distance from Halifax. This is literally gambling with people’s lives in my opinion.

DTX

Arash, On the surface 4-engine jets seem safer, but if you look at them from a risk perspective, you’ll see otherwise. 4-engines are safer in the case of an engine shutting down. However, catastrophic failures, such as an engine exploding, catching fire, falling off a wing etc, are twice as likely on a 4-engine jet. The much more serious events can (and have) taken planes down. In contrast, engine shutdown can be much less serious. While theoretically, 2 engines could shut down simultaneously, the probability is very very very small. Careful risk assessment shows 2-engine jets can be safe for… Read more »

Randy Brunts

The problem with government sponsored industry is it can’t tell a vanity project like the A380 from an innovative project (like the 787). Boeing tried (and tried and tried) to launch the “sonic cruiser” as the 787, but customers wouldn’t sign on and so the board of directors refused the fund it. So Boing went back to ask what the customer really DID want – giving us today’s 787. Their technology (almost over) reach on the design has put Boeing in a class by itself – again. Now the best of those technologies are showing up on everything Boeing builds.… Read more »

Nate Dogg

Are you serious? You are saying the wing of the c-series is more advanced than the A330neo and the A350-1000? You have no idea. The c-series wing needs upgrading already as it has winglets first seen on the A330/340 designs from early 90’s. Just because the 787 wing bends don’t be fooled into thinking it is far superior to the 330neo or 350 wing because it is not.

Perplexe

What’s definitely kill the A380 is the price pressure from hard competition with the low-cost airlines, airlines want to rationalize their fleet to cut cost and A380s paying for it. Another point is the increased capacity of aircraft. As some airlines have more than 450+ seats on 777s, why should they use a bigger aircraft with higher cost and more difficult to fill? Even it’s hard, we’ll need the A380 in the future, as some airports are already run out of slots like LHR or AMS, even more too come. On those slots restricted airports, the A380 is the perfect… Read more »

Jamyl Nograles

People have their preferences. I prefer safety with four engines. My first concern is the safety of fliers not how much airlines save or earn. Comfort is the second in my preference. You can hear how much noise Boeing aircrafts produced compared to the quite engines of Airbuses. Thirdly, seats in Boeing layouts are always cramped and inconvenient seating. Other than these, they are all both excellent makes.

EmeraldCityFlyer

The A380 will soon become a novelty platform for super-luxury flying only – similar to Supersonic. Production will end soon.
But with that written, Airbus is in good shape with the new A350 and Boeing should be worried that this is the next Airbus revolution.
All this tit-for-tat won’t matter and is based on ego. Wide body production and selection is an oligopoly so until a viable 3rd airframe enters, bitch all you want.

Tad

What everyone here seems to be clueless about is Boeing’s design and manufacturing problems (787 fires and Max crashes), truth is ever since the merger with MD Boeing has gone downhill before it was top tier high quality technology but now its pure greed by the stockholders a lot of current and former Boeing workers will tell you this.

Nate Dogg

From the 1st sentence you had it wrong. The 777x does not seat a similar number. It is still 180-225 pax short of the capacity of the A380 that Emirates use on some routes. However it is a huge plane to fill. The dynamics are geared towards an A380-900 which would be even harder to fill. If Airbus had the balls to go forward and re-machine that plane in similar fashion as the A350 with CFRP and other composites, along with up to date engines, and folding wings to fit a smaller gate category, it would wipe out the economics… Read more »

DTX

Having 2 healthy competitors, i.e., Boeing and Airbus, is good for the world because they both try to continually improve their planes.

One thing about the B747 is that it was a freighter from its early life and this has helped sustain it. It has a reputation as a very good freighter.

One reason not discussed above regarding the lower sales of the B787 (about 10 years ago) was that Boeing had sold out its manufacturing capacity for many years. At one point, it’s backlog was over 900 planes. It’s early manufacturing problems made this worse.

Mark

I think Simpleflying’s analysis of the A380’s failure has been wrong. The 777X did not kill the 380. The 777X has yet to fly, but there’s been little interest in the A380 for years, so little interest in fact, the first of them to come off lease are being broken up for parts – at the ripe old age of 10. I’ve flown the A380, and found it a pleasant experience, but I had to go out of my way to fly it. Why? Because the A380 is huge and was designed and built with old, fuel-guzzling technology and designed… Read more »

Steven

Excellent commentary Mark. Another important stakeholder, one even more important than the flying public, are the airlines. The public does not buy the planes directly (indirectly through fares though), airlines do. I’m guessing for example with the initial 777, Boeing discovered the public wants 18 or 19″ seats in a 3-3-3 configuration, they build the largest twin-engine in history at the time and for many years, airlines adhered to a 3-3-3 layout, but then some smart ass figured out you can do 3-4-3 and soon airlines around the world were switching to 3-4-3 and a skinny 17″ seat. Delta has… Read more »

Prandtl

It is completely untrue that the airport congestion problem has been solved. There are now more congested airports in the world than 15 years ago. The author should check the facts. The only new airports are the new Istanbul and the new Beijing airports.

Tony

“The new 777X promises to carry a similar number of passengers (as the 380) but in a much more efficient manner.” really now… the exaggeration in this assertion is hard to bear. don’t be daft.

Old Stick

It’s not the Boeing 777x which is killing the Airbus A380 – it is the Airbus A350!!!