Thursday, February 14, 2019

End of the Airbus A380 Superjumbo Production Run: An End of an Era?

Although it never reached the romance level of the Anglo-European Concorde, does Airbus decision to scrap the production of the A380 by 2021 mark an end of an era in the aerospace industry?

By: Ringo Bones

To most aviation and aerospace enthusiasts, the four-engine Airbus A380 is more than just a technological tour-de-force. The fact alone that its main parts are made across four countries in the Eurozone – i.e. France, Germany, UK and Spain could be seen as a cross-border economic miracle for those who still believe in the promise of a European Union. Sadly, economic exigencies in the current air travel industry – especially during the past few years – have sent a death knell to the Airbus A380’s production run.

When plans to produce the A380 Superjumbo was presented to Airbus’ top brass during the late 1980s, it was projected that the aerospace company could sell around 2,000 Superjumbos and there was also a desperate need for the Eurozone-based Airbus to grab the market share of Boeing’s flagship 747 Jumbojets which were selling like hotcakes to the airline industry since the end of the 1960s. At the time, Airbus’ top brass saw that the A380 Superjumbo could better meet the challenges in connecting the world’s crowded airport hubs – London, New York, Dubai and Tokyo – in comparison to the existing Boeing 747 Jumbojet. Despite of black-swan events that shook the civil aviation / air travel industry – i.e. the September 11, 2001 terror attacks – Airbus’ top execs still believe that they could still steal the 747’s market dominance and went ahead in the A380 Superjumbo’s production.

Despite production delays, the Airbus A380 Superjumbo finally took its first ever commercial flight back in 2007 with Singapore Airlines. It swiftly became popular with the flying public due to the added legroom and spaciousness, but it was complicated and expensive to produce in part thanks to the way production was spread across various locations. Sadly, demand for the A380 Superjumbo from the world’s major airline companies eventually dried up as the industry shifted away from larger planes in favor of smaller wide-body jets which offer comparable fuel efficiency per passenger like the two-engine Boeing 787 Dreamliner and even Airbus’ own smaller two-engine passenger planes like the A330 and the A350.

The future of the Airbus A380 Superjumbo has been in doubt for several years as orders dwindled. But in a statement on Thursday, February 14, 2019, Airbus said the “painful” decision to end production was made after the Dubai-based airline company Emirates reduced its latest order by cutting its overall A380 fleet size from 162 to 123. Emirates said it would take delivery of 14 further A380s over the next two years, but has also ordered 70 of Airbus’ smaller A330 and A350 models. Even though US airline companies decided to retire their fleet of Boeing 747 in 2018 and British Airways already decided to also retire their fleet of 747 Jumbos by 2021, there are still plans at Boeing’s main Seattle production plant to make the freight / cargo carrying variant of the famed 747 way after the year 2025, it looks like the venerable 747 Jumbojet managed to outlive its competitors sent to kill it.

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