As reported yesterday, Airbus, (buried in their annual press release from their press conference), this morning announced the closure of the A380 production line will happen in 2021.
39 Emirates A380’s have been cancelled and there are, as at the time of writing, only 14 aircraft left to deliver.
The news will affect a swathe of businesses and Airbus facilities from Britain to Spain, Germany, France, and myriads of other sub-assembly and component suppliers around the world. In fairness very few if any of them, are totally A380 dependent.
Emirates couldn’t get Rolls Royce to support them on an an almost extortionate contract for the engines Rolls Royce said was financially unviable, which might have resolved the issue. Wider global forces in the aviation market also had more than an simple effect. In the end Emirates wanted long-term sustainability in new aircraft supply, which wasn’t viable with the A380.
In 2017 Airbus did tout the idea of a new wing modification and other refinements, along with uprated engines, but nobody wanted to operate the engine programme, and it raised no interest from other airlines, being killed off when Emirates declared their lack of interest.
Emirates have now announced a deal to buy 30 A359’s and 30 A339neo’s.
A380’s won’t just vanish, Emirates own half of theirs and lease the other half, so as long as they make economic sense to operate they’ll stay flying. However you can almost certainly see the global leased fleet declining quickly at the end of their 10 and 12 year terms.
I have no doubt the worlds negative thinkers will all have something bad to say about the end of the A380, but it will always be a daring attempt to deal with an issue that still isn’t resolved at many of the worlds congested airports – too many aircraft. It will always be an engineering marvel.
The aircraft and its design in themselves are not to blame. Its concept was sound, but the world around it changed so quickly, with 9/11 then the 2008/9 global crash, oil price spikes, and changing markets.
The design and concept – which still remains valid – was optimised to take large passenger numbers from hub airports like Heathrow, LAX, JFK and Frankfurt, and deliver them to other hubs, where the passenger would potentially catch ‘spoke’ flights to smaller airports. That at its point of conception was how things worked. In many places it still does.
The changes came so quickly however as air travel boomed, demand soared and new aircraft – especially the 787, started to demonstrate the viability of smaller aircraft, operating from smaller airports and cities to other smaller airports and cities, and longer range small aircraft undermined the hub & spoke principle.
Furthermore there was a change in the expectation of passengers, where frequency of flights to meet convenience, requiring more and smaller aircraft, undermined the one-a-day philosophy of a single large aircraft.
As the A380 went into production the global economy took a nose dive on a scale that had many wondering if anything could survive it. Those who ordered it – like Virgin Atlantic, who were the original launch customer, simply couldn’t afford it, indeed they were lucky to get through the next five years still flying.
The price was nearly $500m a unit fully fitted, crewed, fuelled and ready to fly by the time an airline put one into service.
Bizarrely, the 800 passenger concept of the aircraft’s original design never happened. One airline, the defunct Skymark of Japan, even took seat numbers to just 388. Many sit in the low 400’s.
By the time Airbus committed to the A350-1000, and Boeing the 777-X it became clear that viable alternates existed, cheaper to run, with similar ‘in service’ passenger capabilities that cost less to lease or buy. From that point on the A380’s logic made little sense. It couldn’t compete as the world had changed around it.
Emirates too, realised that its own rationale needed to change and even with its buying power it couldn’t force a price that made the rest of its order viable.