It’s a legendary aircraft of epic proportions which has truly pushed the boundaries of engineering to the limit. Yes, we could only be talking about the fabulous Airbus A380.
This double decker, luxuriously appointed aircraft has garnered quite a fan club around the globe, with passengers going out of their way to enjoy a flight on the biggest aircraft in the world. Although persistently unpopular with US carriers, the A380 has earned a place in aviation history, but does it still have a future in the sky?
The A380 in numbers
You already know that it’s the biggest aircraft in the skies, but what else do you know about the A380?
- Size: 238ft long, 79ft high, 261ft wide
- Weight: 589 tons
- Range: 8,500 nm.
- Passengers: Up to 853 (in an all economy layout)
- Cost of an A380: $445.6 million
- Number built: 232 (as of November 2018)
- First flight: April 27th, 2005
- First commercial flight: October 25th, 2007
- Launch customer: Singapore Airlines
Who operates the A380?
ANA have taken delivery of one of the three A380s joining their fleet. They are due to launch flights this year to Hawaii. Their unique livery and exemplary service make this an exiting service we can’t wait to check out.
Asiana Airlines first started operating the A380 in 2014, and currently have six in their fleet. They fly the aircraft from their hub in Seoul, South Korea, to destinations in Asia and the US, including Los Angeles, Hong Kong and New York.
British Airways have 12 A380s in their fleet, operating flights on the giant jet since 2013. They fly a number of transatlantic routes with the jet, including from London to San Francisco, Vancouver, Boston and LA as well as to Singapore, Johannesburg and Hong Kong.
China Southern also operate the A380, with five aircraft in their fleet. Their A380s use the typical three cabin arrangement with 506 seats in total. They use the aircraft to and from both Beijing and Guangzhou, connecting to Los Angeles, Sydney and Chengdu.
Emirates are by far the largest operator of the A380. With 107 currently in their fleet and a further 55 on order, they are largely responsible for keeping the A380 in production. Flying from Dubai to 57 destinations worldwide, they were the second airline to fly the A380 launching service in August 2008.
Etihad have been operating the A380 since 2014, with 10 aircraft in their fleet. Despite recent financial struggles, the carrier remains positive about the future with plans to launch an ‘extra legroom’ cabin imminently.
Korean Air also have 10 A380s in service, flying from their hub in Incheon to Los Angeles, Atlanta, London, Paris and New York. They have only 407 seats on board, the fewest of any operator, and several bars on board to add to the luxury flying experience.
Lufthansa operate 14 A380s, and have recently revealed their new livery as the first A380 underwent rebranding. As the flagship aircraft of the airline, they run the A380 from their hub in Frankfurt to 18 destinations worldwide, including Beijing, Delhi, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore.
With six A380s in their fleet, Malaysia fly twice daily from Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow. The aircraft have 486 seats, including 8 business suites and 66 business class seats. There was talk of retiring the A380 in favour of their new A350s, but for now at least they continue to maintain the route with their fleet of six, and have added Saudi Arabia to the schedule too.
Australian carrier Qantas have 12 A380s in service right now, with a further eight still on order with Airbus. The existing fleet is due a refurbish over the next couple of years, with the first aircraft due to go into the workshop in March 2019. Expect to see an upgraded business class product as well as new business class lounges featuring café inspired designs.
10 A380s are operated by Qatar, although none feature the legendary Qsuite, sadly. Their three class aircraft fly exclusively to London, Paris, Bangkok and Guangzhou.
As the launch customer for the A380, Singapore are also big fans of the jet, being the world’s second largest operator of this model. However, with just 24 in their fleet, they’re still a long way behind Emirates. Flying to 14 destinations, their A380s have a four class arrangement, with suites, business, premium economy and economy options.
The final carrier on our list is the fabulous Thai Airways. They operate six A380s on routes to six destinations; Frankfurt, London, Hong Kong, Osaka, Paris and Tokyo.
Building the A380
The initial production of the A380 was not as straightforward as Airbus would have liked. The complexity of the cabin wiring, involving 98,000 wires and 40,000 connectors, stretching total of 330 miles(!), caused delays to the deliveries of the first aircraft.
In 2005, Airbus announced that the initial deliveries would be delayed by around six months, and subsequently reduced their annual target from 120 to 90-100. Delivery slipped again in 2006, and by 2009 annual delivery targets were further reduced to 70 – 80.
Further delays added to Airbus’s problems, but since 2012 production has been at a steady three per month. In 2018 they delivered just 10 aircraft and are happy to slow the rate of production to try and maintain a profit margin on the project. Even with a $16bn order from Emirates, the A380 is yet to break even, and requires an estimated $78bn of orders if it ever hopes to.
Selling the A380
At the launch of the project, Airbus had 50 firm orders in from carriers: Air France, Emirates, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and the International Lease Finance Corp. Although the first test flight was conducted in 2005, it would be 2007 before the A380 entered into service.
Despite initial excitement over the engineering marvel of this sky high behemoth, Emirates are really the only carrier keeping the jumbo giant in business. ANA recently took delivery of the first of three A380s for their fleet, but only really took those as part of a deal to get airport slots.
The first A380 has already been retired, achieving less than half of its target lifespan. With far more efficient aircraft out there, it’s no surprise some carriers are phasing out the A380 in favour of other models. Issues around filling the aircraft to capacity, as well as restrictions on which airports can accommodate it, make it a less attractive option for the majority of carriers.
The future of the A380
With a steadily declining appeal and really only one carrier still ordering the A380, you might wonder whether Airbus will scrap the project. Commercially, it would make sense to think about scrapping the project, and if it wasn’t for Emirates recent order of 20 aircraft, they probably would have had to.
Still, Airbus persist with their love of the A380. Its as if they know how much money has been sunk into the A380 and are dedicated to sinking more to turn things around. In fact, they’re working on an enhanced version of the A380, called the “A380plus.” The study includes aerodynamic improvements that would reduce fuel consumption, as well as an enhanced cabin layout and optimised maintenance planning.
With passenger numbers doubling every 15 years and predictions for massive growth in the Asian market in particular, perhaps the future of the A380 is not as bleak as we might have guessed.