Point: In the low yield predicament that aviation finds itself, the market has been rife with speculation about the future of the A380. Leonard Favre 1BlueHorizon Group managing director explains.
Since it entered commercial service in October 2007, the Airbus A380-800 has brought a long-lost sense of glamour back to travel. Its three-room suites feature private showers and buttery leather armchairs, and in-flight lounges sport bartenders mixing bespoke cocktails. A broad staircase reminiscent of a 1920s ocean liner links the two decks. Some airlines even made promises of kitting out their new superjumbos with casinos and gyms–although none have actually done so.
Incontestably, the superjumbo draws interest. But will it draw more airlines? And considering the white-hot market for next-generation large twinjets like the Airbus A350-1000 which affords much better economics, is there a future for the A380–including the notional re-engined A380neo and stretched A380-900?
That’s the million dollar question. So far, financially speaking, the aircraft has been a gamble of grand proportions, and carriers are finding it tough to fill in turbulent economic times.
Even before the A380 first lifted off the runway, with 50,000 people onlookers at France’s Toulouse-Blagnac Airport on April 27, 2005, there were questions about the A380’s viability. The bottom line remains fragile: Singapore Airlines has opted not to extend the lease for its first early-build Airbus A380 after only 10 years of flying it. Malaysian Airlines too has not been able to draw enough traffic to fill the half-dozen A380s it had bought, putting light on something long dreaded in the industry: the lack of a second hand market for the very large aircraft (VLA)–despite attempts to make them more commercially viable such as incorporating 700 seats, dedicated to transporting Muslim travelers on the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, into a cabin that once set new standards of spaciousness.
On top of that, leading legacy carriers are not considering more orders, even if they are not reducing their initial orders.
An initial flood of interest from airlines has turned into a slow drip, and Airbus is leaning heavily on one customer, Emirates, for sales–the Dubai-based carrier has almost 50 percent of firm orders for the aircraft. No US carrier has bought one, and Japanese airlines, among the biggest cheerleaders for huge planes, have taken just a handful. Iran Air’s order for the superjumbo grabbed attention last year, even if it most probably represented Iran’s determination to compete economically. In the end, even that order eventually excluded the A380s from the list.
Airbus has delivered 198 A380s with only 121 in its order book to be built over the next five years. This comes despite its earlier credible proposal for the VLA market that predicted airlines would buy 1,200 superjumbo over two decades. And as airlines shift away from VLA, many of those orders appear destined for delays.
Certified by regulators to carry up to 856 passengers in a single class layout–although the average is closer to 550–the superjumbo was the European aerospace group’s multibillion-dollar bet on the future of air travel.