Does the A380 have a future?
April 2015 marked the 10 year anniversary of the Airbus A380’s maiden flight. In 2005, the aircraft was an engineering marvel and even today, not too much has changed.
A decade since it took to the skies, the aircraft is still the largest passenger airliner in the world, and by quite a long way – with 40% more usable floor space than the next largest airliner – the Boeing 747-8. Capable of carrying an impressive 853 passengers in all-economy class accommodation, the A380 has a range of 15,700 kilometres, opening up non-stop city pairs like Dallas-Sydney.
Does the A380 have a future? Well, if you were to go by its technical capabilities and sheer scale alone, you might think the answer would be a definite yes. But as the past has taught us with aircraft like the Concorde, commercial aviation is not always led by what is technically possible, but also what is commercially viable.
Since the initial hype around the aircraft has subsided, the pace of sales for the A380 has noticeably decreased, whilst in contrast the manufacturer has seen a definite increase in demand for its smaller and more economical aircraft like the A320 and A330. With a total of 317 orders for the A380 and 156 currently in service, the aircraft manufacturing behemoth is yet to sell a single A380 this year.
Against a backdrop of an over-budget, $13 billion, 11 year investment in the aircraft, the aviation industry has seen increased speculation that Airbus may not be able to continue to manufacture the giant of the skies.
So far Airbus have denied any such speculation, however, the manufacturer recently launched a new seating configuration that will squeeze more seats into the A380 and push the maximum passenger capacity beyond 853. When you consider that the A380 was originally designed to set new spatial standards for passengers, it’s clear that Airbus is aware that a more profitable carrier is required by many airlines.
However, what is impossible to deny is the A380’s popularity with passengers, and over a decade since its launch, it’s hard to put that down to novelty factor. Current configurations offer substantially wider seats, more leg room and up to 15% more stowable luggage space per passenger than comparative airliners – even in economy class. Combine this with an eerily quiet flight – the result of state of the art sound-proofing technology – and you have an aircraft that offers a remarkably improved long-haul experience.
In reflection of this, it has been repeatedly reported that passengers are willing to pay a premium for the A380 and certain airlines will continue to ensure they cater for that demand.
Airbus has also predicted increased demand for the A380, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. Several of its airline clients have reported rising numbers of middle class travellers in these regions, which is increasing the demand for larger aircraft servicing smaller routes and smaller airports.
What about the A380’s future? Well, the aircraft is yet to fully offset the expense of its original development. However, if the general expansion of the aviation market continues and Airbus’ predictions for superjumbo demand are accurate, it could be that we see many more anniversaries to come.Header & Body Image copyright Airbus