Following an announcement from Emirates Airlines that it would be reducing its A380 orders from 162 to 123 aircraft, Airbus’ executive management made a key decision to cease production of its premier superjumbo commercial jet.
First going into production back in 2003 and with its first flight back in 2005, high hopes were held for the aircraft dubbed the largest commercial aircraft ever designed. Despite being a technological achievement within the realm of aviation, the A380 never quite secured the orders it needed to recoup its sizeable multi-billion-dollar investment.
Designed to carry between 525 to over 800 passengers across its two decks, the A380 is powered by some of the most powerful engines available in the market — four Engine Alliance GP7200s or Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbofans.
With only 234 deliveries completed out of the 313 ordered over the last 13 years, Airbus is set to complete the final delivery for the A380 by 2021.
“Having been one of the earliest critics of this aeroplane, it comes as no surprise that Airbus has finally seen the writing on the wall and opted for the kill of the loss-making A380. The A380 was never going to replicate the success of the 747-family given that average aeroplane seat count at major hubs has been declining for nearly 30 years,” comments Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research.
“Despite Emirates being a stalwart buyer, the A380 simply doesn’t work for every big blue-chip airline. The sea of change enacted in 1995 by the 777 family, when it entered service proved that airlines sought range, not higher capacity. The recent storming sales success, in particular of the 787 Dreamliner family, A350 and now 777X, the A380 was sporting technologies from the 1980s and simply was economically unviable.”
Delving deeper into the dilemma now faced by the aerospace manufacturer, Ahmad shares that one of the biggest problems that Airbus has to contend with is that it doesn’t have a product to offer within the large aircraft space.
According to the chief analyst, the company’s other premium offering, the A350-1000 has also performed badly in the market and he expects it will be challenged once its chief competitor Boeing’s 777-9 (777X) takes to the air this spring.
While Emirates has moved to acquire 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 aircraft from Airbus, the airline currently holds orders for 150 777Xs, which are expected to replace their current 777-300ER fleet. Ahmad expects the carrier to continue purchasing more 777Xs for future expansion, drawn by the aircraft’s enhanced payload, range capabilities and lower fuel burn as compared to the current 777 fleet.
“With Boeing also on the cusp of launching the new middle of the market aeroplane (NMA/797), Airbus’ strategy of going for large jets like the A380 proves that their vision was wrong and that Boeing’s was right — airlines are looking for more point-to-point connectivity with smaller, longer ranged aircraft,” says Ahmad.
“While the A380 may have provided extra legroom and comfort, from a financial standpoint for operators — it’s a financial abyss. It is little wonder that Emirates leases its A380s and doesn’t own a single one of them,” he concludes.