Why Emirates Has Won With The Airbus A380


No airline in the world is quite so synonymous with the A380 as Emirates. While other airlines fly a handful, Emirates flies more than 100. Even now, as Airbus prepares to end the production of the giant jumbo, Emirates still sings its praises. How has Emirates done so well with the biggest plane in the world?

Emirates A380
How has Emirates made such a success of the A380? Photo: Emirates

A big white elephant

For a great big plane with great big potential, the A380 is viewed as something of a white elephant. Despite bringing to the market the largest passenger capacity of any aircraft, not to mention some of the latest and best technology of its time, the A380 failed to sell.

Since the first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines in 2007, only 14 airlines ever ordered the type. Of the 251 orders place (and not cancelled), 50% went to Emirates. No other airline really took u the mantle of the A380 in such a big way, the closest being Singapore with its 24 aircraft, a far cry from the 123 in operation by Emirates today.

A380 emirates
Emirates has 115 A380s in its fleet, and some more yet to come! Photo: Emirates

Now, with Airbus ending production and airlines racing to retire the type, the A380 is on borrowed time. So why, when other airlines can’t wait to get rid of the giant jumbo, is Emirates doing so well?

How did Emirates make the A380 work?

Emirates’ CEO Tim Clark is a massive fan of the A380. He claims that it was not a white elephant at all, but rather it’s the airlines to blame who are not using the aircraft to the best of its ability. In an interview with Airline Ratings, he said,

“The A380 was a misfit for Air France. They never scaled; they only have ten aircraft. Yes, we faced the same teething problems, but we dealt with them because we were scaled enough to deal with it. If you’ve got a sub fleet of 10 it’s a bloody nightmare and the costs go through the roof, she is absolutely right. But if you got a hundred of them it’s a bit different. Your unit costs in operating with that number are a lot lower than having just ten.”

Emirates Airbus A380
Having a large number of A380s has made it easier for Emirates to keep costs low. Photo: Emirates

So, part of the reason the A380 works so well for Emirates is because its invested in having a massive fleet. Economies of scale certainly come into play here, not just by allowing Emirates to negotiate a lower price for the aircraft in the first place, but also in terms of spare parts, crew training and everything else that goes along with operating an airline.

The way the airline operates the aircraft is impressive too, laying on multiple services to high demand destinations. Dubai to London Heathrow, for example, sees eight flights a day by Emirates’ A380s. As a heavily slot restricted airport, the airline would be missing out on traffic if it wasn’t for having such a huge plane to use.

The basic reason that the A380 is so good for Emirates comes down to its unique business model. Emirates has soared on the basis of providing a hub and spoke service to passengers traveling between east and west. Helped by the position of its hub in Dubai, the airline largely operates on only the densest markets, where even the A380 can be filled with ease.


The planned retirement

In the Airline Ratings interview, Mr. Clark went on to say that Emirates planned to retire its first A380s this year, in 2020. Two have already been removed from service but Emirates has a cunning plan for these retiring birds also.

Emirates A380
Emirates has a plan for retiring A380s. Photo: EmiratesEmira

Back in September last year, Clark told Flight Global how the airline plans to maximize value from the A380, even after it’s retired. He said,

“We are in the process of [starting A380 retirements]. Two have been deactivated. They are under retirement because we’ve got a major overhaul coming up and it’s best to take the old aircraft out – they’re all written down – and take the gear off them rather than buy a $25 million main landing gear. I need two, possibly three, to meet that [overhaul] requirement.”

So, Emirates will be using its retired A380s to provide parts for its existing fleet. That is not only a clever business decision, it’s also a very creative way to save money and keep the rest of the planes in service. Clark believes there is more value to Emirates by using them in this way, and doesn’t see that a secondhand market exists in which he could sell the plane whole.

What do you think about Emirates and the A380? Let us know in the comments.


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I love when Clark trashes other airlines. Dude you run a state owned airline backed by oil money. I don’t want to hear it. You are no genius. Id’ love to see him fast forward a 100 years when the oil wells are dry. See how much of a genius he is then. Actually darn near all his jobs were with state owned or oil flush airlines. I don’t know why people take him seriously.

Gerry S

Maybe it is because of his great success with the a/c that folks take him seriously. He makes money with it. That should count for something. No?


It’s also very easy to use when you’re running with STATE FUNDS. Must be nice.


Clark is doing a good job, look at Etihad, they’re also state owned and as you say with oil wells, but no profit since ages!


I have a colleague who has been in the business of parting out used aircraft including 747s for at least 25 years, so Tim’s plan is not actually that cunning (as in no-one ever thought of this). This is a well established worldwide business . Spare parts for emergencies, sure!

That said If you refurbish an aircraft with used parts from an older aircraft with potential more cycles, what have you achieved?

Those engines, landing gear, hydraulics need to be refurbished and certified before you use them as replacements as part of a C/D check.

Ahmad Shumayal

Wow. Impressive. I wonder if it was an accident.


I have travelled Manchester to Perth WA on Emirates A380 in all three classes. In total I have flown on this plane 7 times out of 16 trips down under. This ‘big bird’ is fantastic in any class and the service is phenomenal. My favourite plane of all

Moaz Abid

Hey guys, want to feel how it is to run an airline. Simply download Airlines managers’ tycoon and when you start it will give you $300,000,000 to start an airline. I’ve already started mine.

Marcello Anteghini

Amazing airplane, excellent airline definitely. Without a shadow of a doubt A380 as the best airplane
of the commercial aviation history and the excellence of the European engineering. d**n, four engines made me feel relaxed like a peas in a pod when flying with this airplane. I’ve read recently Airbus will cease A380 production and that’s a shame indeed.

Kalani Whittington

Great forward thinking business model’s often lead to success.
Appreciate Emirates plan to repurpose retired A380’s.
As a fan of classic aircraft from the Dc3, Connies, Concordes to A380’s; never a white elephant, instead a valuable rung on the ladder of aeronautical progression.

Gerry S

No way am I gonna argue with success. This guy made it work with A380. No one else did. Deserves some credit. Like the song said: You hit them when they up; you hit them when they down.

Gopal Sandilya

As a diamond is a diamond,not a gemstone,A380 is A 3 8 0.No comparison.


Great plane, great airline, well managed!


Excellent. Fantastic.

Peter Postmaa

I simply love the 380…I flew with it about 6 times now from South Africa to different destinations in Europe. Greatest plane ever.


I travel frequently from Australia and New Zealand to the U.K. its the best airline to fly with and the best aircraft to fly on. All business class seats are private and have aisle access. The service provided makes it second to none. The special part is boarding straight from the lounge to the upper deck. Brilliant.


Almost without exception every passenger on an A380 loves the ride, quiet, spacious and airy. Couple of downsides, queues at immigration, bit longer to load and unload but minor compared to the overall experience.
No way are Emirates supported financially by the state, they have no money or oil, it can be seen quite clearly in the balance sheet that they make a lot of money. Tim Clark is a genius visionary and he made a fabulous airline very profitable using the A380. I certainly don’t fly on other airlines given the choice and I fly around 10 long haul sectors a year.

John Ebert

I love flying with/in the A-380. LUFTHANSA has fourteen of these magnificent Flying Palaces and uses them quite wisely in its network. In the long run airlines will implore Airbus Industries to please, please start building the A-380 AGAIN, because of slots at major airports. We also love flying the A-350, which LH also has.

Hassan Al Banna Mohmad Nawawi

Agree…another model that makes emirates work…in the hub that they flies, they used code sharing to go further. Hence passenger is having 1 point to end point in regional destinations with lot of ease such as 1 luggage check in without potential re-check in, and all confirmed boarding pass. Hence point of responsibility to Emirates..second is they even flying to 2 regional hubs such as Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne and another Singapore and Sydney..hence flexibility to load up for economic of volumes… Besides for us passenger attractiveness for upgrade..chances are higher as whole upper deck is business..