How a giant died in the skies – 15 years of the world’s largest aircraft

The Airbus A380 has turned fifteen years old. However, the world’s largest passenger plane will extinguish not the candles from the birthday cake, but the light in the factory. The design that delighted everyone will end its life in 2021.

Giant, colossus, superjumbo, “Jesus, but he’s huge” – these are just a handful of the expressions that could be heard at the world’s largest airports in reaction to the Airbus A380. The supersonic airliner was designed to make long distance travel more comfortable, and passengers would not have to change planes so often. The French company missed the mark with its predictions. The airline industry in this regard is fraught with great risk.

Airbus thought that future travel would focus on so-called “megahubs” – large airports that would allow for seamless transfers and travel in further directions. Places that are called “megahubs” by design can include Germany’s Frankfurt Airport or the largest and most popular airport serving as a sort of springboard to Asia – Dubai International Airport.

The reality turned out to be quite different. The multitude of connections, as well as the availability of many airports caused airlines to opt for smaller, narrow-body aircrafts – hence the popularity of another Airbus design, the A321 Neo. The flying philosophy was that we do not need one huge airport to concentrate all the travelers. It is enough to have smaller terminals and a denser network of connections in the same directions in order not only to be able to fill all the seats on the plane more easily, but also thanks to this to be able to offer the customers lower ticket prices.

Airbus A380, which was supposed to be the flying future, cheaper in operation and able to take on board a gargantuan number of people, became a problem, to which you had to pay extra. And that’s a situation no business likes.

Birth in the new millennium

The Airbus A380 was developed as a direct rival to the Boeing 747 – the first such large, long-haul aircraft in history. From the start, Airbus wanted to develop an aircraft that was not only larger than the 747, but also cheaper to operate and more efficient in terms of fuel consumption. The company started work on the A380 concept as early as 1994, originally calling it A3XX. The work was finalized in 2000. However, the manufacturer was hindered by issues relating to the development of the aircraft: the number of cables needed for the fuselage, and problems with assembly, which ultimately delayed the creation of the A380 by almost five years.

The first test flight of the Airbus A380 took place on April 27, 2005. Two years later, on October 25, 2007, the aircraft entered service as part of the Singapore Airlines fleet.

A mighty giant

The Airbus A380 is a design that cannot be overlooked – even without an interest in aviation. Depending on its configuration, the aircraft is capable of taking between 400 and 500 passengers on board. In the all-Economy version, the design is able to accommodate almost 900 people on board. The extra space allowed airlines around the world to use Airbus A380 as a kind of experiment. You will find versions of the plane with an extravagant bar on the first level, luxurious business class or even versions with suites and rooms and bathrooms!

With a wingspan of almost 80 meters and a length of 73 meters, the amount of space available to the imagination of the designers is enormous. It didn’t take long for the A380 to become synonymous with luxury and business travel of the future.

Building and configuring an aircraft is one thing. The second is the space required to operate it. Airports such as London Heathrow and Chicago O’Hare have had to spend millions of dollars (and pounds) rebuilding taxiways and building new gates to fit the aircraft. Today, we can find 400 airports around the world capable of receiving and handling the design described.

The next troubles concerned the “filling” of the aircraft. Although Airbus sold the A380 cheaper than Boeing sold its 747, the operation and maintenance of the aircraft became very expensive. Business and premium classes were not as popular as expected, which hindered airlines from making adequate profits. The financial crisis in 2008 also contributed to the problems, causing fuel prices to skyrocket.

This situation planted a seed that, once grown, sank the Airbus A380. Airlines in times of crisis began to invest in smaller, more efficient jets that proved to be better for long-haul routes. Demand for the Airbus A380 fell sharply as early as 2010.

A project hanging in the balance

The Airbus A380 was in a precarious situation. It came to the point that only one company, Emirates allowed the manufacturer to continue producing its huge aircraft and invested in its fleet based on the described giant. In 2019, however, the moment came to deal the final blow. Emirates announced that it has no intention of placing any new order for the Airbus A380 – as the airline is betting on more efficient designs, including the Boeing 777-300ER. Singapore Airlines has now taken the final blow. The company has announced that after 12 years of service it will begin to retire A380 aircraft from its fleet, two of which have already been scrapped. Air France has also made similar decisions in recent months.

Thus, the last A380 on order will be delivered in 2021. From then on, the models produced in the previous years will remain in service and it is only up to the carriers themselves to decide how much time they will spend in the air.

See you later, giant

Aggressive cutbacks, production terminations and airline withdrawals don’t mean that the popular A380 will disappear from the skies over the next few months. Such changes in the aviation market take a long time, so it can be assumed that the superjumbo will be around for at least a few more years.

On a personal note, as an aviation enthusiast, I had the opportunity to take a nearly nine-hour trip with this aircraft between Dubai Airport and Hong Kong. Flying Airbus A380 (even in Economy Class) was one of the most interesting and rewarding moments in my life. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience this adventure at least once.

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