The Airbus A380 was an airliner that fell behind the times, both in the market it was designed to serve and in the technologies that made it such a novel passenger proposition.
Te A380 entered commercial service on Oct. 25,
2007, with Singapore Airlines. Te first flight from
Singapore to Sydney was operated under flight number SQ380. It gained significant media attention not
just because of the A380’s double-deck size but because
Singapore Airlines had included first-class private suites with double beds.
Years later, Etihad Airways installed
“Apartments” on the upper deck of
its A380s, each with its own bedroom
and shower room.
Since seeing the aircraft enter service, however, Airbus has delivered
a total of just 234 aircraft. Leases of
the first two Singapore Airlines aircraft were not extended, and two have
already been retired after little over 10 years in commercial operations. More aircraft currently operated by
Singapore Airlines could follow. Air France also said it
plans to phase out three of its 10 A380s. Qatar Airways
said it plans to phase out its A380s when they turn 10
years old—starting five years from now.
Airbus’ biggest mistake with the A380 was massively
overestimating the size of the market for a very large
aircraft. Te company’s bet that it could sell some 1,500
aircraft was a hugely expensive misreading of where the
market was going. Some estimate the A380 program
has cost over $25 billion.
It was therefore inevitable that after Emirates Airline,
by far the largest A380 customer, announced in mid-February it was reducing its last major order from 53
to 14 aircraft, the program was deemed no longer sustainable. Deliveries will end in 2021, Airbus CEO Tom
Enders said, although it’s likely passengers will still be
flying on the world’s largest airliner well into the 2030s.
Airbus’ main market pitch was that a 525-plus
seater could boost airlines’ ability to maximize slot-
constrained hubs on the world’s busiest routes, like
Te sales pitch, however, did not match the realities
of changing market needs as the A380 entered service
in 2007. Yes, air traffic demand has continued to grow
healthily, with some markets doubling or tripling in
size, but airlines have still managed to find the slots they
need, even at congested airports like London Heathrow,
either directly or via their alliance partners.
Meanwhile, other trends have emerged. Airlines
increasingly looked to boost their competitiveness by
adding frequencies on major routes to attract business
travelers or by creating new markets through the opening of city-pair routes that linked places with nonstop
air service for the first time.
Tis trend for more long, thin point-to-point routes
was not best suited to the A380 because of the risk of
operating half-empty aircraft. For these routes, the newer, twin-engined widebodies developed by Airbus and
Boeing are the aircraft du jour, with their greater effi-ciencies and lower seat-mile costs. Te Airbus A350 and
Boeing 787 have attracted far broader customer bases,
while the A380 rapidly became a niche aircraft.
Te numbers tell the story. Te A380 has just 313
orders from 16 customers. And its success lies mostly
with a single customer, Dubai-based Emirates, which
has 162 A380s delivered or on order. Te A350, which
entered service in 2015, eight years after the A380, has
accumulated almost 900 orders from around 50 customers. Te Boeing 787 has amassed more than 1,400
orders from some 75 customers since entering service
And while the A380 set new airliner comfort standards, the twin-engined A350 and 787 incorporate
technologies that make them at least as quiet and comfortable.
For Emirates, whose chairman and CEO called it
“a wonderful aircraft loved by our customers and our
crew,” the A380 was a gamechanger.
For most airlines, however, the A380 was just too
much of a good thing.
The world’s largest airliner found little room in a
changing market. BY KAREN WALKER
Boeing are the
aircraft du jour.