PARIS – The A-380, a mammoth double-decker commercial airliner, was supposed to revolutionize the way people flew to far-off intercontinental destinations, but something has gone wrong with that ambitious plan and its creator, the European aeronautical consortium Airbus, announced on Thursday it would stop making it.
Two decades after its launch, the spacious globe-shrinking aircraft was set to be remembered as a dream machine that never really took off with carriers.
The figures juggled by Airbus where as impressive as the physical appearance of this striking mastodon of the skies: 575 passengers on two flight decks, 145,000 employees worldwide of which 4,000 would be allocated to Spain, 550 square meters (5,920 square feet) of cabin space, a wingspan of 80 meters (262.5 feet), 73 meters long and 530 kilometers (330 miles) of wiring in each aircraft.
It was conceived by the developing European aeronautical industry as the machine that would dethrone Boeing’s legendary 747 “Jumbo” jet; a Super-jumbo set to transport an unprecedented number of intercontinental travelers in never before seen space.
Some airlines fitted suites that included private bathrooms with showers.
Airports would have to be redesigned to cope with the sudden footfall after each arrival.
On April 2005, the A-380 took off on its maiden flight with a six-member test-pilot crew on board from Toulouse in southern France.
It was the same runway that, 36 years earlier, saw Concorde take off on its historic first flight.
Chief test pilot Jacques Rosay later said flying the A380 had been as easy as “handling a bicycle.”
In 2007, the first A-380 delivered to an airline took off with Singapore Airlines’ livery from Changi airport (Singapore) bound for Sydney (Australia) with 471 delighted passengers on board.
Nonetheless, some troubling signs foretold the A-380 was in for turbulence.
On Jan. 10, 2008, a Singapore Airlines A-380 suffered its first major mishap when it careened off the tarmac and ended with its massive weight on the grass as it was being towed by a tractor to its take-off runway.
Two months later another Singapore Airlines A-380 was forced to cancel its take-off after a critical fuel pump failure was detected.
Airbus’ A-380 order book was also not taking off as originally envisioned.
With just about 300 aircraft orders compared to the 1,400 orders of its fiercest competitor, Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner,” storm clouds were forming.
Despite being the “greenest” aircraft, boasting the lowest carbon dioxide emissions per passenger, its top client, Emirates Airlines, doomed the plane.
On Feb. 14, 2019, it canceled a 39 unit order, replacing them with Airbus A350s and A330neos.
The optimal state of global airline traffic, whose volume doubles roughly every 15 years, had fed Airbus’ hopes for the A-380, but in recent years orders gradually dropped from 27 units in 2015 to one monthly unit in 2018.
Its current price tag is of $445.6 million also contributed to dissuade potential buyers.
Also, the market had become increasingly fragmented and less prone to using concentrated airport hubs, a requirement for the plane’s success.
The writing was on the wall a year ago as the aeronautical group issued a warning in its 2017 results.
The A-380 program looked to be in its death-throes and Airbus was already contemplating shutting down its production line.
Emirates made a last minute order that briefly offered a glimmer of hope but 12 months later Airbus has decided to park its gigantic airliner, maybe for good.