Airbus A380, end of its life?

Airlines’ belief in the Airbus superjumbo is faltering

Airbus A380, reaching the end of its life?

Airlines’ belief in the Airbus superjumbo is faltering

16

September, 2016

ONE of the most insightful responses to a Gulliver article was below the line of a post about air turbulence, and how flyers often overestimate its effects. The mysterious “guest-nialmnj” wrote:

”  No amount of fancy aeronautical engineering calculations can change the fact that the notion of any vehicle of such vast weight and size actually flying is patently absurd; planes are clearly kept aloft by sorcery and the collective (if misguided) belief of their passengers. This so-called turbulence arises when the faith of some of those passengers falters for a moment.
Gulliver lives just a few miles east of Heathrow on the flight path. He often sits in his garden and watches A380 jumbos fly overhead, less than a minute into their enchanted journeys to the Middle East or Asia. He knows guest-nialmnj to be a sage. Watching beasts as mighty as Airbus’s double-deck leviathan take to the air is enough to make one wonder at the laws of physics.

Alas, such a magnificent sight may well become less common in the future. Not because the collective belief of the passengers has failed, but because that of airlines has.

Airbus A380 (2014) – Photo by Master Films

On 14th September, Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced that it would not be renewing the lease on five of its A380s when the ten-year contract expires next year. It said that it has not made a decision on its remaining four leased Airbus jumbos, though there is a good chance that they, too, will be consigned to SIA’s history.

The airline’s move away from the A380 is significant. SIA was the first carrier to fly the planes in 2007. And it should be the ideal customer for Airbus, relying as it does on connecting traffic to and from the world’s busiest airports.

“The A380 is 24.1 meters high, 80 meters wide and 72.7 meters long, equivalent to 2 blue whales length. The plane weighs approximately 590 tons”

But many carriers are losing interest in big planes. In 2014, Boeing did not sell a single jumbo. Last year, just 18 rolled off its production line in Everett, Washington state. Airbus has fared a little better. The Gulf “superconnectors” have been particularly voracious customers. Emirates, for example, has 79 A380s in its fleet, with a further 63 on order. Even so, the European planemaker has decided to cut production by more than half, to just 12 of the planes a year from 2018.

That reflects its scanty order book. Carriers today prefer more efficient twin-engine planes that can travel long distances. That means that they can fly direct routes to airports that once would have required a stopover in a congested hub. Qantas, for example, which currently flies 12 A380s, is investing in Boeing Dreamliners, which will—almost inconceivably—bring Britain within non-stop reach from Australia, at least from its western shores. Other carriers, too, are looking elsewhere. Air France has decided not to take the final two A380s that it has ordered, Malaysia Airlines is trying to lease out the planes it currently owns, while Virgin is having second thoughts about its order of six super-jumbos.

The end of the A380 is not yet in sight. Although Airbus has made little money from the project, their popularity with superconnectors, as well as new orders from airlines who aspire one day to compete with them, such as Iran Air, means that the production line will carry on rolling for the time being. And given the enmity between the world’s two biggest planemakers it might find some comfort in the fact that its position is less precarious than the 747’s. That really will require some magic to continue flying.

Original Article

Business Travel – The Economist