Will there ever be a bigger plane than the A380? Or has the world moved onto smaller aircraft forever?
Why was the A380 built?
Before we jump into our predictions, we need to cover the background and motivations as to why the A380 exists. The A380 was built to serve multiple different airline needs.
The first was to solve the problem of increasing capacity to busy airports and justify expensive landing slots. Some airports have little or no free landing slots and have aircraft arriving 24 hours a day. Plus, these slots are so in demand by airlines that they can cost millions of dollars.
The A380 gets around this by offering airlines a way to increase capacity on the slots they already have.
A second perk of the A380 is lowing the cost per seat. Because there are so many passengers onboard, airlines who operate the A380 have a lower cost per seat compared to other airlines and thus could leverage that competitive advantage (much like how Emirates does today). As long as they can fill it, that is.
Lastly, the A380 is perfectly designed for airlines operating a vast hub to hub model. Airlines focusing on long-haul travel from two different points in the world (such as London and Dubai) find that using a single A380 offers an advantage over multiple smaller aircraft. Unlike smaller routes between close cities (such as Chicago to New York), airlines are less concerned about frequency but rather want to combine all their passengers for the day into one aircraft to reduce costs.
Will another big aircraft ever be built?
You can’t answer the above question without tieing into why the A380 was ultimately a commercial failure.
The A380 burned too much fuel, was hard to make profitable (although some airlines have made it a success) and there are only so many routes that need such vast capacity.
Plus, airlines are moving more towards increased frequency over increased capacity. They would rather have multiple aircraft (each easier to fill up and make profitable) than to operate a single aircraft each day.
Additionally, the A380 struggled with the rise of fuel prices. Despite having so many seats onboard, the aircraft has the biggest empty weight of any passenger aircraft and thus costs the most fuel just get into the air.
With newer aircraft coming out with lighter fuselages, fewer engines (the A380 had four engines and the new Boeing 777X only has two) and not requiring modifications to runways & airport terminals, the future belongs to smaller aircraft.
Or does it?
Do any projects currently exist?
Looking at the current plane builders would be the clearest sign of a big aircraft revival.
Now that the A380 has been discontinued, Airbus has decided to focus on their smaller aircraft and try to push their range as much as possible (such as the A321XLR).
Boeing has not come to the table with anything new since the Boeing 747-8. There are no more passenger 747 orders left, with only a few cargo planes being built. Boeing has taken a different direction with its new flagship Boeing 777X, offering an aircraft that has massive capacity but without the A380 disadvantages above.
There is a third project in the works that we might expect to hear about in the next decade.
COMAC is working on a large aircraft codenamed the C939. It will be a twin-engined aircraft and seat up to 400 passengers. It won’t be double-decked like the A380, but rather be a rival to the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350.
So far, the upper limit for aircraft seems to be in the 400 seat range, with the current A380s being phased out over the next decade. Might we see more A380s like aircraft in the future? Possibly, but likely airlines will push towards more aircraft in the sky than doubling down on singular massive aircraft.
What do you think? Will there be any aircraft bigger than an A380? Let us know in the comments.