Why Boeing Saw The End Of The Airbus A380 Before Production Started

Today was a sad day for the aviation industry with Airbus officially cancelling the A380 project. However, while today marks the end of the A380, it doesn’t stop there. It seems as though the whole 4 engine aircraft market is slowly being drawn to a close.

The majority of 4 engine aircraft on the market are made up of three families. The A340, A380, and B747. One only needs to look at sales statistics to see that 4 engines are no longer better than 2. Even the B747, the Queen of the skies, is seeing lower than predicted sales of its latest iteration.

4 Engined Aircraft
The A380 program was officially cancelled today. Photo: Mark Huss/Lufthansa

Why 4 Engines?

Four-engined aircraft have the advantage of being immune to ETOPS procedures over the Atlantic, something which made the A340 a popular choice for carriers in its heyday. Additionally, the A380 and B747 use four engines to produce a significant amount of thrust for their extraordinary payloads.

The problem with the four-engined aircraft is that even with more efficient engines, they use an awful lot of fuel. This is something that in today’s current climate of rising fuel prices isn’t particularly popular with many airlines.

4 Engined Aircraft
The A340 program was discontinued by Airbus back in 2011. Photo: Airbus/Lufthansa

Boeing Moves Away From 4 Engines

It’s almost as though Boeing saw the end of the A380 before it was even being produced. While the American aviation giant could’ve focused elsewhere, it pursued the B787, a widebody aircraft with one passenger deck and two engines. As such, the B787 has been a huge hit, with Airbus developing the A350 to compete with it.

The B787 is popular because it has lower passenger counts than the A380 while maintaining a similar range. Tie this with the dual engines on the craft, and it becomes much more profitable than the A380 on most routes, especially where passenger counts are low.

4 Engined Aircraft
Even the queen of the skies has seen poor sales recently. Photo: Tim Stake/Lufthansa

Market Favours Efficiency

Increasingly, with the rising cost of aviation fuel, airlines are looking to maximise their profits. This has made 4 engine aircraft less favourable due to the amount of fuel they guzzle. The A350, B777 and B787 will carry fewer passengers than the B747 and A380. However, they achieve this on similar, if not longer, ranges.

This has two main advantages. Firstly, less fuel is required to power 2 engines than is required for 4. Secondly, it is much easier to fill an A350 than an A380. As such it is easier for airlines to recoup the costs of a flight. While the A340 and A380 programs have been closed, the B747-800 isn’t faring much better. In October Simple Flying reported: “In the past year to date, only 12 B747s have been delivered. 10 of these aircraft were the freight version, including 7 for UPS. Of the 2 passenger aircraft, one was delivered to an unidentified customer, with the other being set aside for the United States Air Force Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization Program.”

Do you think 4 engined aircraft have a place in the future of aviation? Let us know in the comments down below!

11 comments
  1. a four engine aircraft can loose two engines, turn around, and fly (not glide) to a safe landing at
    an airport many hundreds or kilometres away instead of ditching in the Atlantic or the Pacific. Sooner or later a two engine craft from a major carrier is going to have to ditch, then the debate might come back .

    1. I have a friend who flew the 747 for 12 years (following an Air Force career) and he never had an engine failure, so the above comment is moot. Statistically, a 4 engine plane is more likely to suffer an engine failure than is a 2 engine aircraft.

    2. It hasn’t happened because engine reliability is way over 99.9%. ETOPS hasn’t resulted in any accidents. I know it was once joked as Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim. But that joke has faded away. The only example of gliding was an AirTransat jet where the pilot turned off the wrong engine.

  2. Other issues with 4 engine aircraft are higher maintenance costs and higher probability that at least one engine will fail on any given aircraft.

    Clearly Boeing’s development of freighter variant of the 747 has helped sustain “The Queen”. I wonder if another contributing factor is that the 747-8 shares its engine type with some 787s, i.e. the GEnx. I realize that these aircraft use different variants of the engine, so my idea that lower production numbers for the 747-8 variant my be more sustainable could certainly be in error. Perhaps someone has insight on this?

  3. I am sort of confused by this article, be it errors and or sentence structure. There is mention of four families yet only three are listed.

    “The majority of 4 engine aircraft on the market are made up of four families. The A340, A380, and B747.”

    Then later on,

    ” the B787, a widebody aircraft with one passenger jet and two engines.”

    Also no mention of subsidies, the WTO fight and nor hubris. European hubris yet again showing their psychological need to build a plane larger than the Americans without an solid economic case for one. Can you say Concord Part II?

  4. We toured the Boeing plant and saw a 787 in production. The engineer conducting the tour was asked that very question about two engines versus four. He said that each engine of the 787 can reach 119,000# thrust. As a result the 787 can fly successfully on one engine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended: