The Airbus A380 Superjumbo is officially a decade old. It was originally an aircraft that Airbus presented as a true game changer — one that would bring unprecedented levels of luxury and profitability to the airline industry.
In the decade since its maiden flight in April of 2005, 317 superjumbos have been ordered. The plane is in service with more than a dozen airlines around the world. But demand for the behemoth in recent years has been weak. Airbus has not been able for find a new customer for the plane since 2013. Which leads us ask: Has the industry left the A380 behind?
On April 27, 2005, at 10:30 AM local time, the first Airbus A380 prototype opened up the throttles of its four massive turbofan engines.
As the superjumbo took off from Airbus' facility in Toulouse, France, the largest commercial airliner around was actually flying.
According to Airbus, in a typical four-class seating arrangement, the superjumbo can carry as many as 544 passengers, with a range of more than 9,400 miles.
The A380's flight crew operates from a state-of-the-art glass cockpit. Like all modern Airbus jets, the aircraft is flown using a side stick, with a fly-by-wire controlled system.
After its maiden flight, the A380 completed a flight test program before entering commercial service in 2007.
Of the 317 jets ordered, 140 of them have been by the Dubai-based carrier. Of the 156 jets that have been delivered, 59 have been to Emirates.
Emirates is a long-haul-only international airline. All of its flights are routed to or from its palatial hub in Dubai.
As a result, Emirates needs an aircraft that can carry a lot of passengers for very long distances. A perfect job for the A380.
Unfortunately, there aren't many airlines in the world that use Emirates' strategy. These days, the trend in the industry is to offer direct flights, using smaller long-range aircraft.
Which is also why Boeing's latest jumbo jet -- the 747-8 -- is struggling even more than the A380, with only 50 or so orders for the passenger version.
So, is the Airbus A380 a success? Sort of. With the superjumbo, Airbus tried to take the Boeing 747 to the next level.
Sadly, the plane was designed and built in a time of great change for the airline industry. The business justification that drove the concept no longer really exists.
But with Emirates, the jet has one well-funded, highly profitable benefactor. For the Dubai airline, the A380 has been able to fill an important void in its fleet. In that sense, the superjumbo is a qualified success.
Which brings us back to the original question. How many more birthdays will the A380 have? We don't know. But as long as Emirates orders more jets, the A380 will be around for for a while.
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