Ten years of the A380, and they’re still building them…

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They said it would never last, they said it was the future of air travel, they said they’d build a massive freighter, they said they’d build a stretched -900 version. They said quite a bit.

History always plays out very differently to prediction, and when Singapore Airlines flew its first A380 to Sydney on October 25th 2007 – almost a year later than planned, they had no idea that ,and three other of their aircraft, plus many others besides, would spend six months at Airbus having their entire wing root assembly replaced due to unexpected stress fractures. That cost Airbus around $1 billion all in, with compensation.

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F-WWSN Originally built for Skymark of Japan, sold to Emirates – you can see EK engines and Skymark tail

It’s true that the aircraft hasn’t sold in droves, it will probably barely break even in terms of profit by the time it closes, but its cash flow has been more than welcome.

Emirates is about to take delivery of its 100th A380 on November 3rd, Singapore is the next largest operator and is taking four new ones to replace its first 4 as they go off lease. Similarly Emirates overall numbers will start to peak now, as during 2018 – 20 its first leased aircraft also start to come off fleet. Everyone is wondering what will happen as a second hand market builds up.

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One airline, ANA remains the last to take three new aircraft as a new customer. It didn’t want them, but it was part of the deal that got Airbus to hand over its control of Skymark by virtue of the huge debt the airline owed the manufacturer.

Revised A380’s are on the cards, a few wing tweaks, some interior changes, but no revolutionary update. There isn’t the market for it and Emirates, who would have taken more efficient engines would never contract to something before Airbus had proven it. Airbus wouldn’t build it unless someone agreed to buy it.

A380 facts:

  • More than 120 A380 routes are operated by 13 airlines to 60 destinations
  • 240 airports can accommodate the A380 around the world
  • Since its entry into service, the A380 has carried some 180 million passengers
  • The A380 fleet makes over 300 flights per day
  • An A380 takes-off or lands every two minutes

Yet despite the reluctance of airlines, people like IAG’s Willy Walsh have made it plain they may well consider used aircraft. Heathrow’s constraints are ever-pressing and more would be of use. BA just will not pay for new.

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Turkish expressed interest in A380’s but when it had the chance of flying the Malaysia airlines fleet, it changed its mind. Those 6 – the first fleet retirement of aircraft not six years old, may be a special circumstance, but nobody wanted them despite their pedigree. They’ll now be turned into charter and pilgrim flights, converted by Airbus to take up to 800 passengers.

The irony of the A380 is that those who operate them see their value, passengers are thrilled by them and go out of their way to choose them. Yet still, they seem unable to fulfill the needs of as many airlines as was forecast, despite the obvious attraction, and the willingness of airports to spend a small fortune equipping terminals, runways and taxiways to handle them, reinforcing stands and buying expensive catering trucks that can reach top decks.

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Emirates CEO Tim Clarke has always said that the market would come to the A380 – the modern aviation equal of the mountain moving to Moses, rather than the other way round. With production set to drop to just 8 per year in 2019, the Mountain is going to have to get a move on.

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