- The Airbus A380 superjumbo, the largest commercial airliner in history, will end its production run in 2021.
- The A380 was once thought to have the potential to revolutionise air travel and rival the Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
- Instead, only 274 Airbus superjumbos have been ordered, and those in operation play more of a niche role for flights operating in high-congestion areas.
- Emirates accounts for nearly half of all A380s sold, with 123 orders.
- The A380 first flew in 2005 and entered service in 2007 with Singapore Airlines.
- A while back, we had the chance to take a tour of one Etihad Airways‘ A380s.
The Airbus A380 is one of the most impressive and controversial aeroplanes in aviation history. And as the largest airliner in the world, the superjumbo is undoubtedly a technological wonder.
When the European planemaker dreamed up the A380 three decades ago, it was for an aircraft that would revolutionise air travel, with grand visions of unprecedented luxury for passengers and earnings power for airlines.
Things haven’t worked out quite as well as Airbus hoped. Instead of becoming the workhorse of airlines around the world, the A380 has become relegated to niche duty for high-traffic airports and markets with congestion issues.
This week, Airbus confirmed that production of the A380 would end in 2021. Airbus CEO Tom Enders cited the lack of orders as the reason for the shutdown.
Although popular with passengers, just 274 A380s have been sold since the early 2000s, with nearly half of them – 123 – going to Dubai’s Emirates.
Through January, Airbus has delivered 234 A380s to airlines around the world.
Long-time Teal Group aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia expects only 17 more planes to be delivered as Airbus shutters the production line.
Some industry observers, including Aboulafia, have gone so far as to call it the biggest mistake in the history of Airbus. According to Aboulafia, the A380 is a poorly executed aircraft designed for a market that doesn’t really exist. As a result, the $US25 billion that Airbus spent on the A380 program could have been better used elsewhere, like on a rival for Boeing’s next-generation 777X or on a true replacement for the ageing 757, Aboulafia told Business Insider.
Regardless, the superjumbo remains a truly impressive aircraft. The Airbus A380 is the company’s most expensive airliner, with a list price of $US445.6 million. That’s more than $US79 million more than Airbus’ second-priciest offering, the A350-1000. It’s nearly $US43 million more than the Boeing 747-8 and $US19.8 million more than Boeing’s next-generation 777-9.
A while back, Etihad Airways gave Business Insider access to one of its A380s on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Let’s take a closer look at Etihad’s Airbus A380 superjumbo:
The Airbus A380 made its maiden flight in 2005 …
… before entering service with Singapore Airlines in 2007.
The superjumbo eventually joined the fleets of Emirates …
… Lufthansa …
… British Airways …
… China Southern …
… Air France …
… Korean Air …
… and Qantas, among others.
Etihad took delivery of its first A380 in December 2014 and now operates a fleet of 10 superjumbos.
The plane we toured, A6-APA, was actually the first A380 delivered to the airline.
Here’s A6-APA at its delivery ceremony. At 239 feet long, 79 feet tall, and 262 feet from wingtip to wingtip, it’s massive.
In fact, the A380’s height requires multiple specialised catering trucks to stock its galleys.
There were more catering trucks at the back of the aircraft.
Underneath the A380 is a truly impressive landing gear that boasts 22 wheels on five bogies.
This particular A380 is powered by a quartet of Engine Alliance GP7200 turbofan engines, each producing more than 70,000 pounds of thrust. Engine Alliance is a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and GE.
Some A380s are also powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines.
Let’s step on board this beast.
The economy-class cabin fills the entire main deck of the Etihad A380.
Each of the 415 economy seats is 17.5 inches wide with 31 inches of seat pitch, the distance between two rows.
Etihad’s recently updated seats come with 11-inch seatback touchscreens.
Parents travelling in economy class with their children have access to Etihad’s in-flight nannies.
If both decks are jam-packed with the economy seats, the A380 can fly with more than 800 passengers.
Walk to the back main deck and you’ll come across the A380’s rear spiral staircase.
Make your way up the stairs …
… and you’ll find the business-class cabin.
Each of the 70 business-class seats boasts 73 inches of seat pitch and folds flat into a bed at the touch of a button.
Each seat is equipped with an 18.5-inch entertainment screen.
Walk toward the front of the upper deck …
… and you come up to the A380’s premium cabin lounge.
According to Etihad, it’s designed to mimic the look and feel of a luxury hotel lounge where passengers can socialise and even watch live sporting events.
Passengers can also grab a drink and a midflight snack.
Emirates’ A380s have a lounge at the back of the upper deck, while Korean Air’s A380s have cocktail lounges at the front and the rear of the deck.
Ahead of the lounge is the first-class cabin. Etihad’s A380s boast two types of private first-class suites. The first is called “The Apartment.”
There are eight Apartment suites per A380.
Each suite boasts about 45 square feet of space.
They are all equipped with a seat …
… and a divan that can be converted into a bed. The suites all feature 24-inch flat-screen TVs …
… vanity mirrors …
… and retractable dividers.
The Apartment suites also have access to the shower at the front of the upper deck.
But what sets Etihad’s fleet apartment apart from all other A380s is “The Residence.” There is only one Residence suite per aircraft, and tickets can cost more than $US40,000 for a round trip between New York and Abu Dhabi.
Why is it so expensive? Well, because The Residence is just that: a 125-square-foot home away from home aboard a plane, complete with a living room …
… a private bathroom with a shower …
… and a bedroom with a double bed.
The bedroom is equipped with a 27-inch TV, while the living room gets a 32-inch unit.
Each suite also comes with a personalised designer robe and…
… the services of a private butler.
Passengers travelling in The Residence also have access to a private lounge at the airport.
Make your way down the front staircase, and you come upon the flight deck.
The ultramodern cockpit boasts eight high-definition LCDs supplied by the French industrial giant Thales Group.
Incredibly, this beast of an aircraft requires only two pilots to operate.
Like all modern Airbus jets, the A380 uses sidestick controls as opposed to a traditional yoke.
And that’s the end the of our tour. Enjoy your flight!
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