The pinnacle of excellence, and an eye-catcher; the Airbus A380 is truly a marvel. When Singapore Airlines took the A380 for its first commercial flight in 2007, there was huge excitement and noise around the world that the future of air travel had finally arrived. From hotel suites to bars in business class, all seemed extremely normal for the superjumbo. It is often known as the ‘hotel in the sky’ with the sheer amount of lavishness and craftsmanship found on deck. It is also one of the most expensive airplanes ever built with a price tag of about $450 million a piece. So, why did the world’s largest passenger plane, fail after just 12 years of production?
The sheer size and luxury of the A380 also played a role in its downfall. Ironically, double-decker planes are popular with passengers, but airlines have come to view them as inefficient. The cost of flying and maintaining an A380 is extremely high. From maintenance costs to repair costs, the more in the fleet, the more damaging.
The design is another key element where the A380 is often criticized. The structural design of the airframe is poor so it develops cracks more frequently than other aircraft. The wingspan itself is a separate headache. The wingspan is about 50 feet wider than a Boeing 747 and so wide that most airports have no ramp space for such a large aircraft. Pilots also have to be on special alert when taxiing the jumbo jet due to its abnormal size. Quite often the wingtips would exceed the width of the tarmac. Overall, the A380 is roughly 30% larger in size than the 747. Some argue that internally the A380 is too large, as it can carry up to 800 passengers, making it unprofitable when too many seats go unfilled. Many also consider the four Rolls-Royce Trent 9000 engines to be inefficient as well when compared to engines of other similar range aircraft. The A380 travels more but consume even more.
However, Airbus did manage to save their image and divert attention by unveiling the A350 family, made to rival Boeing’s 787. Since 2005, a total of 57 firm orders for the A380 have been canceled by airlines including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, and Lufthansa. A cargo version of the plane also never took off because of a lack of interest and poor planning.
Although the primary users of the Airbus A380 are Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, other airlines also use this aircraft. Emirates, however, is the only airline to significantly invest in the plane, making up more than half of the 300-odd orders for the superjumbo jet since its launch in 2007. In total, the airline has 110 A380s in service and more on order. Many airlines have started to replace their fleet of A380s with cheaper and more efficient options such as the 787s, A350s, and the 777s. Some airlines prefer to wait for more details about Boeing’s new family of 777s which have fewer seats but the same range and two fewer engines. With the introduction of Boeing’s latest 777-9X, the odds of seeing an A380 will diminish even further.
A little over a decade ago, Airbus unveiled the A380 which was seen as the future of aviation, but sadly not all stories have a happy ending.