It must have been with gravely heavy hearts that the employees of Airbus Industrie watched on Thursday 25 March 2021 as the last ever Airbus A380 takes to the sky. The end of the Super Jumbo era goes with her as she makes the flight from Toulouse, France, to Hamburg, German. Here she will, as all her sisters before her, be painted in the livery of her new owning airline and be fitted out internally.
The last ever Airbus A380 will then make her way to her new home in Dubai and fly under the livery of Emirates, registration A6-EVS. Emirates, the largest operator of the A380 with already 117 aircraft in their fleet took their most recent delivery of three A380s in December and now await this final one. Apparently, Emirates had tried to cancel the rest of their massive A380 orders with Airbus, however, Airbus could not agree as they maintained they had already started construction of the final aircraft on the order book.
Last ever Airbus A380 takes to the sky way before we thought it would.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that travellers were getting excited about seeing and getting a ride on the brand-new Super Jumbo. In 2007, Airbus and the A380’s launch customer, Singapore Airlines, created huge excitement around the world as they prepared to launch the first Super Jumbo into the world. On the 25th of October that year, the first route was flown from Singapore to Sydney. This writer was very excited. Living in Sydney gave me an opportunity to view this new technological marvel first-hand way before those in the rest of the world. A rarity in this part of the world to be first in such things. As it flew overhead, I thought to myself, if anything can be called Aluminium Overcast, it is this. The sheer size of the wings overhead was awe-inspiring.
It was also exciting as you travelled the world to see various airports which had adjusted their airbridges and ramp areas, putting up signs progressively saying “We are A380 Ready”. As if to throw maize down to attract pigeons out of the sky.
It is always amusing to look back at the marketing concepts that were put out there about this new airliner. The Airbus A380 was designed to give more of a concept of space to travellers. There were fewer seats per square metre of cabin floor as compared to the Boeing 747. The A380 was certified to carry 853 passengers in a squishy all-economy layout, which it turns out no airline ever implemented. The common layout was a mixed-class arrangement with around 500 passengers. There was talk, also in the marketing handouts, of the ability to have duty-free shops and various other amenities to make the trip more enjoyable. Singapore Airlines and Emirates did put private cabins for the wealthy aboard, however, for the most part, economies dictated that the A380 gave us just more of what we already had.
So, why is the Air A380 being discontinued? One could be forgiven for blaming it all on Covid 19, and no doubt that is the reason why Emirates tried to back out of the final aircraft in their order book. Let’s face it, 2020 was a perfect storm for air travel with countries slamming their borders shut or making quarantine such that it made travel impossible, for most anyway. But the rot for the A380 and also the Boeing 747 had already set in before this. The age of the giant twins, such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 was upon us and airlines no longer wanted big 4-engined airliners that could only fly to certain airports. You can read about this in more detail here.
It is not just the Airbus A380 that has seen the end of its days. The Boeing 747 Jumbo also is now struggling with being viable. Boeing brought out the latest iteration of the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747 8 and its sales in the passenger-carrying market have been very ordinary. Boeing has, however, benefited from a design decision taken back in the 1960s when they decided to sit the cockpit in a bubble above the main deck. They did this as an each-way bet, in case the passenger version flopped they could fall back on the design as a cargo version with a nose door. In the 747-8 this has paid off. The 747-8F freighter version has far outsold the 747-8i passenger version. For airbus the cargo version is not really a viable idea as the flight deck sits between the upper and lower decks, negating any possibility of a straight-in-nose loading door like the 747.
So, what will become of the A380s still flying? There are still high-density routes in the world where these aircraft are the perfect solution. Travel will need to get to some semblance of what it was pre-covid. Of that, however, there is no guarantee as every new month brings us a new normal of how the world is. As for the folks down at Airbus in Toulouse, they will still have A380s to service, however, I’m sure for many there will not be such a happy outcome.