European plane maker Airbus will cease the production of its flagship A380 in 2021 for lack of customer interest. The decision comes only 16 years after the giant aircraft’s inaugural
flight on behalf of Singapore Airlines took off.
The end of the A380 production program, now announced by EADS Chief Tom Enders, could also terminate the epoch of four engine propelled passenger and cargo aircraft in civil aviation.
At the beginning of this century, Boeing had issued loud warnings: The A380 will never be commercially successful. Because of its huge size, the aircraft can only serve trunk routes with
extremely high passenger traffic. All other destinations operated by the double decker will be loss making, predicted the commercial department of the U.S. plane maker in Seattle. Based on their
market studies, they recommended Airbus to scrap the entire project, and not spend a single euro or dollar to build the giant jetliner.
No big surprise that the Airbus management retaliated, claiming that Boeing’s repeatedly echoed horror scenarios were a blatant attempt to put pressure on the A380 program, aimed at protecting their own plans to build an enlarged successor of their legendary B747-400, the B747-8, offered to the market as passenger and cargo version.
At the end, both manufacturers went ahead with their programs.
And both failed.
The A380 (list price USD 445.6) turned out to be a fiasco as evidenced now, with only 250 of the double-deckers being assembled until the last unit rolls out of the production hall, flying for 14 airlines. Conversely, Boeing’s B747-8 has developed into a costly nightmare for the U.S. plane maker, at least the passenger variant, not the freighter series though.
The freight industry doesn’t bemoan the decision
From a cargo perspective, the proclaimed end of the A380 doesn’t come as a shock to the freight industry. Due to its high passenger utilization the mammoth plane’s lower decks are frequently jammed with baggage, leaving limited space for air freight shipments. “We are happy if we can accommodate 8 or 9 tons per flight in the holds of the jetliner,” an Emirates cargo manager confidentially told CargoForwarder Global.
EK gave the A380 the mortal blow
Emirates is the by far largest A380 operator with 123 units belonging to their fleet when the program fades out 2021.
Ultimately, Airbus’ prime A380 customer Emirates was responsible for giving the program the mortal blow. However, similar to downscaling their A380 order from initially 162 to 123 aircraft, EK signed contracts for 40 A330neos and 30 A350s which will surely sooth the nervousness of AB’s sales people.
AB suffers loss of reputation, EU taxpayers their money
Having said this, financially this swop shouldn’t really hurt Airbus, in contrast to the prestige damage the manufacturer of the world’s largest ever-built aircraft in civil aviation is facing as result of the decision.
The situation is different for taxpayers in France, Germany, the UK and Spain. Loans in the region of several hundred million euros granted to Airbus by these states for financing the enormous development cost needed to get the double decker airborne have gone through the chimney of the manufacturer and will not be repaid by the company. They are the real losers of the A380 fiasco.