Will Airbus drop the A380?

I don’t normally cover general aviation news on Head for Points but this story is of interest.  At a conference in London last week, the Chief Financial Operator of Airbus said that the company may be forced to discontinue the A380 super-jumbo as early as 2018.

Not one single A380 has been sold in 2014, unless you count an order from a leasing company which will be cancelled unless it can sign-up end customers.  Production is currently running at 30 aircraft per year.

A number of airlines with options on A380s have either been letting them lapse or negotiating with Airbus to convert them into different aircraft.  Virgin Atlantic has options over 6 aircraft from an order it signed in 2000 – Virgin has now pushed out delivery to 2018.  I wouldn’t put money on that happening.  Lufthansa has dropped orders for three aircraft and Air France is believed to be cancelling the final two of the 12 it ordered.

A380 plane

British Airways has 12 A380 aircraft on order, some of which are already in service.  (I flew one to LA in First Class in October.)  Some people believe that BA will end up trading its commitment to take the full number into an order for the new A350 instead.  Like the Boeing 787, the A350 is made primarily from composites and is substantially lighter than a legacy aircraft.

A cancellation by BA would be ironic since Heathrow Airport is one of the most popular A380 destinations.  With landing slots hugely expensive and hard to find, bringing in an A380 has been the easiest way for many foreign airlines to boost capacity into London.

Malaysia A380

Without the support of Emirates, the A380 programme would have been dead a long time ago.  Emirates has ordered 140 aircraft – an order it increased just a couple of years ago – and is having no problems filling them.  Emirates, Qatar and Etihad are in many ways the ideal customers for the aircraft, using it to ferry vast numbers of people via their global hubs.

Even Emirates is unhappy with the fuel efficiency of the aircraft.  Airbus has plans for a more efficient version but it would require $2.5 billion to develop – and that would be on top of the $25 billion spent so far.  It will have to decide soon whether to double-down or send the A380 into early retirement.

Lufthansa 747-8

Of course, none of this is anything like as bad as the problems that Boeing has had selling the ‘stretch’ version of the Boeing 747-8 (see photo above).  Only Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air have ordered this and it may end up being sold primarily as a cargo aircraft.

Personally, I would be sad to see the A380 go.  Whilst not an attractive aircraft, it is astonishingly quiet if you are sitting on the upper deck.  Experiencing the take-off of an A380 for the first time is, frankly, weird – it feels and sounds as if the plane is moving at 10mph!

PS.  In separate news, Emirates is planning to remove First Class from some of its A380 aircraft.  It appears that there are some routes, for example Mumbai, where Emirates is selling huge numbers of economy seats but where there is little premium demand.  It is also, however, planning to introduce a ‘private bedroom’ concept on some planes which would be similar to ‘The Residence’ from Etihad.

New benefits across all oneworld airlines for BA Silver and Gold card holders
Etihad offering double miles on flights to Australia or with Virgin Australia
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Comments

  1. A cancellation by BA wouldn’t be ironic. That’s not irony!

  2. Trying to push the airlines that have A380 in their medium/long term strategy to get distress orders in before the ‘discontinuation’?

    Wonder if they could re-design the A380 in composite to reduce fuel consumption… Sure to be more costly than $2.5bn though!

    • A more efficient design would really just mean new engines, with possibly some wing redesign. I read somewhere that they could get another 10% efficiency with a longer wing – but then it wouldn’t be able to get into any airports.

  3. The 747-8 won’t survive as a cargo aircraft either. It is more efficient and larger than the 400 but not not by enough to justify significant orders.

    There is already excess capacity in the cargo market and belly capacity in aircraft like the 777 and the 787 reduces the need for widebody freighters except for oversized loads.

  4. Would be so sad too, nothing vomes close to flying experience on a380. Have bever flew it economy but I gather most economy passengers love it too. The problem is airlines increasingly want to cram people in like cattle such as AC 773ER and care little for economy class comfort, the appaling economy class on the 787 being another example. I am not sure if it is still the case but TG did something different. They swith a380s from longhaul where only one daily rotation was possible to medium haul flights between BKK and TYO/KIX so each aircraft could do almost double daily rotation at fares much the same as they can charge between BKK and Europe. Other airlines perhaps need to think outside the box. According to EK lifting the floor 1 or 2 inches is enough to add a further row of seats and combined with neo would transform theeconomics of a380. The niggest problem though is airlines are afraid they cannot fill it. It bothers me too that at airports like LHR with chronic capacity issues that airlines like Delta and United are able to pperate small aircraft like 757s to cities that have multiple daily services such as Huston and Newark. By doing so they are not fully realising the airports potemtial andultimately reducing passengers route options. Number of daily flights could be reduced by using large aircraft, at same time freeing up slots to introduce new destinations. I would be much in favour of LHR manipulating the market in this way where any longhaul city with more than two daily flights by an airline needs to be operated by a larger aircraft bit no restriction on aircraft type where the airline has a single daily rotation or less.

    • Isn’t short-haul to Europe the biggest culprit here, since the same slot is used for an A380 with 500 pax as an A320 to CDG with 100 pax. Not sure what can be done about this though without decimating European airlines’ connectivity.

      • My thinking is shorthaul is like a shuttle service so there is a place for frequency. However, on longhaul routes like Houston I see little point in offerung multiple daily rotations just a few hours apart using 757s. Economy passengers certainly do’t need it and rationale for business is weak too because in my experience you cannot even rely eith any confidence on disembarking LHR within an hor of schedules arrival times. Had much too many issues with stacking, weather, blocked gates and now even failed tugs for that. With such uncertainties i fail to see need for high frequencies on longhaul services.

    • I think that partly defeats the object – you either have fewer frequencies on larger aircraft or more frequencies on smaller aircraft. It’s all down to the demand for the route. I’m sure if any airline filled their smaller planes and still had demand, they would upsize in time.

    • Don’t forget that frequency is an important factor in airlines being able to sell tickets on some routes. It’s one of a few reasons why BA is yet to operate a single A380 to New York. Lack of A380 gates is another reason, which also stops them from being used on other routes such as Cape Town where there might otherwise be a good business case.

      For what it’s worth I think BA will take all 12. One delivery has been brought forward from 2016 to end of 2015. Whether they will take any options is far less certain.

  5. Although after the outburst from Emirates a few days ago following this news the CEO seems to be saying differently… http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-11/airbus-pledges-new-engines-and-stretch-one-day-for-ailing-a380.html

    • I suspect the issue with that argument is that most cities will invest in the airport infrastructure to serve their needs without necessarily have to go to much bigger aircraft, and everything else being equal most airlines would prefer the flexibility of a fleet that has more small and mid-sized aircraft to benefit from extra frequency and so that capacity can be tailored to maximise yield/profit. And if as a result the aircraft manufacturers are investing in those aircraft (light weight materials, latest engines etc), that is likely to make them even more comparatively attractive.

      The question is how many cities are or will find themselves in London’s position where airport expansion is politically/ commercially/ logistically very difficult.

      • extra frequency….

      • None, it’s only in the UK where we have 1. Huge demand and 2. A Huge argument based around “you can’t do that” to every single option.

        Most countries with (1) understand if you want growth the sacrifice is building infrastructure, and most countries with attitude (2) don’t have much economic success. Strange little island this one

  6. I’m not sure technically this counts as general aviation news unless you’re the Saudi royal family. :)

  7. Perhaps left of the field, but a few A380`s at marginal cost pricing – Ryan-International launch aircraft? :)

  8. Lady London says:

    I love the A380. If I had my way, all my flights would be A380. It’s the first aircraft I get off of feeling relatively clearheaded. They really seem to have got the airflow and the feeling of airiness right. Most of my trips on it have been very longhaul in Y. J somehow doesn’t feel such a big leap up on the A380’s I’ve been on – I’m quite happy with Y on it.

    IIRC AKL had to wait quite a long time for theirs – the gate investment to handle them must be huge. I’d be really really sad and disappointed if they don’t continue them.

    • Yup I really like the a380 and it would always be my preference, this despite being quite against it at its launch. But my first trip on one and I was nicely surprised at how quiet it was, I genuinely thought we couldn’t take off as it was so quiet going down the runway!

      The only negative I could think of is the vastness of the business class cabin on emirates.