A380 winds down, what’s left to deliver?

ANA officially took delivery of its third and final aircraft last week, but is keeping it stored at Airbus until late next year when the market starts to return.

So the only airline expecting new aircraft is now Emirates, and they have eight left to take delivery of.

It seems strange that the airline is already retiring its oldest aircraft, but that was always likely as initial 12 year leases ran out. More are inevitably going to follow.

The first of the eight aircraft is due to be delivered before the end of this month, another is due in December.

Bizarely Sir Tim Clarke, who was instrumental in deciding not to order more is lamenting the end of production.

There is a real issue over what’s happening with A380’s at Emirates, with only 25% of Emirates pilots now A380 qualified, the remainder are 777. Quite what will happen with the vast bulk of the A380’s currently grounded at Emirates is hard to ascertain. A lot will depend on how fast the post-vaccine world returns to whatever normal now becomes.

ANA’s three flying Honu are all delivered

There is a growing feeling that a vaccination will be a requirement for international travellers – Australias’s Qantas has already said it won’t allow anyone to fly international without a vaccination certification.

There seems to be an appreciation that Emirates will never go back to the full 100+ fleet of A380’s. It’s far more likely to find a number that will balance well with its new aircraft orders and the existing 777’s. However, a viable 50+ is likely to stay in service for another ten years.

If Emirates keeps its 777-9 order, they are the aircraft that will replace the A380’s over time, and while there is always the aspect of what we see as waste – the building of huge aircraft whose lifespans are ridiculously small, a business sees it as capital spent, last years money and its never coming back. The next set of results are what matters and if getting rid of relatively new aircraft can be fiscally beneficial, no matter the environmental/Co2 impact, that’s what they’ll do.

In some ways that’s the worst tragedy of the A380. The Co2/environmental impact of constructing one is truly huge. If you take an average size car like an Audi A4, the cost of manufacturing it is something in the order 4 times the Co2 of all the fuel it will burn in 100,000 miles. And that’s relatively efficient.

If you work out an A380, it would take something like 35 years of fuel burn to equal the Co2 it cost to build it. The counter argument is of course ‘well at least its not burning that fuel now’. However something else will be, so in fact the A380 is an environmental impact disaster – it’s never paid back in use what it cost, either fiscally, practically or environmentally. Arguably it’s been the most disastrously bad aircraft ever made from an environmental stand point. Yet it should not have been if it had been used properly, maximising passenger numbers over a 30+ year lifespan, rather than seeking high revenues from minimising numbers and concentrating on high-end business and first class flying.

The A380 is an engineering triumph, it’s an industrial cooperation triumph. It’s an extraordinary aircraft, but its only real validation was in carrying large numbers of people – something the airline business model and human nature would never have let it do.