There is nothing more fascinating than the Airbus A380, a giant plane that can hold up to 850 passengers, fly halfway across the world and make Boeing 747 look like a child’s toy. But if you start to look into how many A380s there are flying around the world (226 as 31 May 2018), you’ll notice a very curious pattern.
No US airline has ever ordered or operated the A380.
To understand the A380 landscape a little bit better before we discuss why there are no US airlines on the list, we should look at which airline has the most A380s.
Emirates, the Middle Eastern airline, easily comes in first place with 104 A380s in service and additional 58 on order. They can’t get enough of them and have even asked for Airbus to continue producing the plane for another 10 years. But this plane is perfect for them and you will see why.
There are some big challenges when it comes to operating an A380
The first is economics, with four engines, the A380 requires far more maintenance than two engine plane (such as the Boeing 777). Four engines take far more fuel to run than two engines.
The second is the difficulty of actually filling up an entire A380. Very few cities actually have the demand for an entire A380 to fly between them. One of the most popular transatlantic routes in the world, Paris to Montréal, cannot justify an A380 (there is 8 flight today between four different airlines).
The third is flexibility. Airlines time and time again have decided to increase the number of planes on a route if they need more capacity rather than increase the size of the planes themselves. This means that you don’t “put all your eggs in one basket” if a plane breaks down, plus giving you more flexibility to increase or decrease the size of the capacity of the route at any time.
United States is not a good market for the A380
The A380 was designed to fly between two major cities, for example, Sydney to London (via Dubai) is a perfect route for the A380. Large amounts of people having to travel incredible distances across the globe, they don’t need to get off at any destinations in between (as it is mostly water underneath them) and would prefer a level of comfort that only in A380 can provide.
But the United States is made up of a complex web of smaller cities. Passengers would much rather fly in a small plane either straight to their destination, or fly to the regional hub before flying onwards. This network design encourages smaller, lighter and faster planes.
Another major reason is many US airports (excluding big coastal cities) do not have the capacity for the A380. This is simple things like designing the airport terminal buildings to accommodate wingspan, their runway length being too short or not having multiple jet bridges to ferry the passengers on and off the plane.
Lastly, it used to be that only a 747 was allowed to cross the Pacific (ETOPS rule, this was due to the fact that it had four engines and could continue to fly if one or two were knocked out). However, this rule has been removed and now two engine planes are allowed to cross.
Lastly, all of the major US airlines have ordered large capacity planes already. They don’t need to buy any more until their current orders are delivered.