No US-based airline ever ordered the Airbus A380. With production ending next year, none ever will. Why was it that the A380 never sold in America, and what does that tell us about the issues with the plane? Let’s find out.
Bye bye A380
The A380 is ending production next year. The final fuselage of the giant for the skies has made its way to Toulouse for assembly. Despite it still being a relatively young aircraft, many airlines have already begun phasing it out of their fleets. The big bird is no longer seen as being fit for the future.
Of all the airlines that ever flew the A380, not one was based in the US. Why? For the biggest airline in the world, American Airlines, it seems it was just too big. Speaking to Business Insider in 2019, the then VP of Network Planning, Vasu Raja, said that,
“The Boeing 777-300 is the biggest-size airplane that fits into our network.”
The 777-300s that operate for American Airlines seat 304 passengers. For comparison, some of the Emirates A380s are configured with around 300 seats more than this. Even carriers with three class, low-density A380s are flying with 165 more seats. For American Airlines, it’s just too big.
That’s likely the case for most other US airlines too. It was a common complaint with those that did operate the type: it was just too hard to fill. But what other reasons were there for US-based airlines never ordering the A380?
The US isn’t built for a big plane
The places where the A380 does work are locations where a hub and spoke model, with a very, very concentrated hub, is the only way. Emirates has made the most of its geographic location part-way between east and west to leverage transportation of the masses. Funneling the whole world through Dubai and out again works well for them, and makes the A380 an economic performer.
British Airways, too, has held on to its A380s and seems pleased with the results. Their strong transatlantic connections, bringing everyone into Heathrow and spitting them out again, has allowed the A380 to make sense on some key routes. Even then, its fleet is relatively modest, at just 12, and there probably aren’t the routes to expand that headcount any further.
In North America, things are far more disparate. Of course, there are a number of key locations for airline hubbing. Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas… the list goes on. In fact, 16 airports in the US handle more than 20 million passengers a year, and a further 12 that exceed 10 million.
And therein lies the problem. The only way something as big as the A380 would work would be if there was a high concentration of traffic from one or two of these airports to other places in the world. But, by the nature of the US, people have more choice of departure point, so the traffic is more spread out. The A380 doesn’t make sense on many of the international routes, and on those where it might have, there was another big flaw.
It was late to the party
The arrival of the A380 in 2007 was poorly timed. The price of jet fuel had begun to creep up, and by 2007 was floating at around $4 a gallon. This made airlines shy away from the expensive to operate four engine jets of the 80s and 90s, and to look instead to fuel efficiency as a major deciding factor.
Sales of Boeing’s own quad jet, the 747, had begun to dry up too. Airlines were already turning to Boeing’s high capacity twin jet, the 777, for their future long-haul needs. Between 2000 and when the A380 was released in 2007, almost 600 777s were sold, a large number of which were to American and United.
US airlines had already made their choice. The long-haul aircraft for the 2000s was to be a Boeing, not an Airbus. And not one of them ever bought an A380.