A Week of Ups and Downs for the Airbus A380

An Emirates A380 in Sydney (Photo: AirlineGeeks.com/Hisham Qadri)

This week has certainly been a seesaw of a week for the Airbus A380. The current title holder for the world’s largest passenger aircraft saw both the good and the really ugly over the last seven days, leaving many to wonder what the future holds for “the whale.”

Some Refreshed, Some Removed from Service

Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced on Friday their fleet of 12 A380 aircraft would be receiving a refresh in 2019 and 2020. The changes mainly affect the cabin layout, as the airline will be doing away with the small economy class section on the upper deck and instead adding six more business class seats and 24 more premium economy seats.

The airline also announced numerous other enhancements. In first class, passengers can expect refurbished seats, better bedding options, and larger IFE screens. In premium economy, the airline’s new seat will be installed, widening the current seat by 10 percent and allowing for increased comfort. In economy, the seats will be refinished and will feature improved in flight entertainment.

Business class, however, will be completely transformed as the airline introduces the same seat that is currently slated to be introduced on their Boeing 787 aircraft. These fully-flat, staggered-configuration seats will feature aisle access from every seat, which represents an improvement from the current 2-2-2 configuration on the airline’s A380s.

Earlier in the week, news began to circulate regarding a Singapore Airlines A380 that has been parked since early June. The airline then confirmed the aircraft is undergoing “de-lease work before returning to the lessor.”

The lessor, Dr. Peters Group, is also expected to sell the first two A380 aircraft they get back from Singapore for parts, meaning the world’s third and fifth whales will soon be the first scrapped, merely a decade after they first entered service.

A Polarizing Aircraft

This week, the world saw just why the A380 is such a polarizing aircraft when it comes to operators. Some, including Emirates – an operator of nearly 100 of the aircraft – seemingly cannot get enough of the aircraft and all it does for their bottom line. But some, such as Singapore, struggle to find the sweet spot.

Emirates, headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, represents the A380’s best success story. The backbone and flagship of their fleet, the aircraft has truly made the ultimate hub-and-spoke model possible.

With one super-hub and nearly 150 destinations to serve, the airline has for nearly a decade relied on the giant aircraft to operate dozens of daily flights, helping to lead to a profit of over $2 billion in the fiscal year that ended in March 2016.

Qantas also expects to take delivery of eight more A380s in the next few years. The Aussie aircraft operate some of the airline’s longest flights, including their flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the U.S.

The aircraft even allowed the airline to operate their longest flights, QF7 and 8 from Sydney to Dallas and back, without stopping in Brisbane, Australia on the return, something that had caused the route to cost much more than it otherwise had to.

For the majority of the 11 other A380 operators, the aircraft has allowed them to operate high-density flights to some of the world’s busiest airports. For numerous airlines, the aircraft has enabled better access to the heavily slot restricted London Heathrow Airport, though that is merely one of many examples.

Slowing Production

In recent months, however, the A380 has taken hits from all sides as Airbus announced they would further slow down production of the aircraft at their plant in Toulouse, France. And with the first of the fleet to be taken out of service in the coming months, it may seem as though the young aircraft is nearing an untimely demise.

However, huge proponents of the airline still exist across the globe. Operators in Europe, all over Asia, and in Australia continue to fly the aircraft to six continents, and Airbus even claims an A380 takes off or lands an average of every three minutes somewhere in the world.

As of July 2017, just over 100 of the aircraft remain to be delivered (46 of which will go to Emirates), meaning just over two thirds of the total orders have been filled to date. But by 2019, the airline will be producing just one aircraft every six weeks in an effort to keep the lights on in Toulouse just a little while longer.

By further pushing out the schedule, Airbus has done just about everything it can to keep their A380 program alive. Now, it’s all up to the airlines to keep the king of the skies where it should be: airborne.

Parker Davis

Parker Davis

When he was just six months old, Parker took his first flight. From that point, he was destined to love aviation. His mom worked for Southwest Airlines much of his family have been frequent flyers on American Airlines for years, just as Parker is now. In 2015, Parker, inspired by aviation accounts on Instagram, decided to create an account of his own, and he hasn’t stopped spotting since. On top of that, Parker has been writing for his school paper since his freshman year and has been writing and doing photography work for AirlineGeeks since August 2016.
Parker Davis
  • Tom B

    It may be a great aircraft. But there no question it was a catastrophic mistake for Airbus to build it. If Airbus were a real private company instead of a taxpayer-subsidized government consortium, the $20-25 billion in losses the A380 has generated would lead to bankruptcy.

    It was an ego project. The business case never made sense. Everyboody could see even 25 years ago that travelers hated hub and spoke and would pay more for direct flights. So the A380 is a business with huge costs – paying for extra landing and baggage handling for every passenger, plus the aircraft itself is hideously expensive to fly when it isn’t full.

    • Airbus is the most successful airplane manufacturer in the world. A380 is an awesome airplane and hundreds of millions of happy passengers have flown on it with many more to come. As more and more people want to fly around the world, there is going to be more and more demand for the A380. The A380 routes are all way more filled than any other airplane route, passengers always chose to book to fly on A380 when given the choice. A380 order may pick up again once current orders get delivered more and as A380neo gets available.

      Just because the A320, A330, A340, A350 are more popular does not make of A380 a failure. The A380 is the only true innovation in airplane design of the past half century.

      • Tom B

        I don’t know how you’d say that. The 4 engine jumbo jet (747) dates to 1967. The A380 is just a larger newer version of the 747.

        Probably the No. 1 innovation in large airframes of the last 40 years is the large twinjet with long range — the 767, followed by the A330, then the 777. It’s those planes (especially the 777-300ER) that killed the jumbo. It boils down to — if you can carry 350-400 people on international routes with 2 engines, why carry 450 with 4 engines?

        The 2nd big innovation is plastic airframes — beginning with the 787 and now including the A350. It’s a BIG fuel cost savings and bringing ticket prices down further.

        The third innovation — which is going to roil international markets — is the development of long-range narrowbodies. A 737 or A320 class plane with 3,500-4000 mile range would have been unheard of 25 years ago. Now there are going to be cheap narrowbodies flying across the Atlantic, which are enabling $300 round trips between the U.S. and UK and Europe. The new A321 with transatlantic range is Airbus’s most exciting product right now in my opinion — they can’t make enough of them.

        The A380 couldn’t compete with the 777 on cost per mile, it can’t compete with the A350 and 787, and it can’t begin to compete with long-range narrowbodies. It’s a beautiful comfortable airplane but it simply costs too much to fly.

  • Johnny P

    I am no aviation analyst but an enthusiast. It is my feeling that this aircraft will remain in the business for some time. It may not be successful but this is surely going to be a platform for huge aircrafts between airports with limited slots.

  • Gerko

    Qantas will never take up the remaining eight A380s. The current speculation that they’ll change the order to A350’s makes a lot more sense.

  • secret agent

    A survey conducted by Airbus found 20% of passengers said they would pay a premium to fly on an A380, even in Economy class!

  • Easyjet should order a bunch of A380 to fly 900 economy-only seats per A380 on routes from major European hub airports to major airports in North America, South America, Africa and Asia. For example Easyjet could easily fill 1 or 2 flights per day from London to San Francisco and 1 or 2 flights per day from London to Hong Kong with tickets that could be sold at $149 or $99 in average each one-way. Why wouldn’t this be very profitable and awesome? What would be the fuel cost to fly an A380plus at full 900-seating capacity on a 11-hour long range flight? Can’t it get recovered and profit with a $200K or so per flight revenue? Each A380 can fly a return trip on a 24-hour period, thus bringing in $400K revenue per day, $146 Million in revenue per year.

    I think crucially Europe and the USA needs to allow Emirates and other such airlines access to fly direct flights from European airports to anywhere, not only through the Dubai hub. I believe Emirates has been asking for it but has gotten it denied. For example Emirates would like to fly a direct A380 from Milan to New York, or something like that, but the anti-competitive US system denies them the licence. Once this lame anti-competitive behavior by the USA is stopped, then one would think that Emirates will go ahead and order a whole bunch more A380plus airplanes and start providing some more routes directly from European airports over the Atlantic? And Emirates already has partnered with Easyjet thus could feed in from their European network to worldwide and mostly flown on the A380 which is the most awesome airplane ever made.