French president Emmanuel Macron visited China this week. Part of his agenda is an attempt to attract Chinese interest for the Airbus A380 aircraft. He was joined by Airbus’ CEO Fabrice Brégier in what may be a last-ditch attempt to find new customers for the world’s largest commercial airliner.
Airbus has seen little success selling its flagship for a number of years. The aircraft has a reputation for being a wonder of modern engineering but is increasingly struggling to convince customers of its advantages. Airlines consider the A380 to be too large, too impractical and too fuel guzzling.
While the original A380 appeared to catch on well at first, the move to more flexible and efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 have made the giant airplane less popular. Even a revamped A380plus, which is supposed to be more fuel efficient and have even more carrying capacity is proving to be a tough sell.
Airbus, however, is not yet willing to give up on the jet. To win over Chinese customers as well as the government, Brégier offered to move additional Airbus production capacities to China. His condition: that Chinese airlines order A380 jets. Chinese customers are rumored to be interested in ordering up to 100 new A380 aircraft. To date, the only Chinese airline to use the A380 is China Southern Airlines.
Airbus already has a base in Tianjin, where some of the A320 family aircraft are being built since 2008. The plan is to increase annual production of A320s in China from four to five, should the deal go through.
Neither side has commented on the possible deal or details of it. Macron concluded his visit on Saturday with no announcement being made immediately upon his return. It is, however, unusual that a government makes the sale of a commercial aircraft part of a state visit agenda. While Airbus receives a lot of support from the French and German governments, politicians have so far been hesitant to engage in sales pitches themselves.