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Short-lived Reign: Youthful Airbus A-380s Continue Heading into Retirement

A tale of two cities. Two decades ago, Airbus executives in Toulouse rolled the dice on the superjumbo, while Boeing executives in Seattle got it right with the B-787 Dreamliner and later, updated versions of the B-777.

Choto Credit: G.R. Mottez

Back in the late 1990s when Airbus and Boeing were projecting the future needs of the industry, they made very different choices. The Boeing 747 had been “Queen of the Skies” since 1969, and the decision to allow Airbus to steal the crown must have been a difficult one. There is market data, and then there is vanity. Airbus seemed to take the Field of Dreams approach of “If we build it, they will come,” but the orders never materialized. Boeing seems to have gotten it right with both the B-787 Dreamliner and updated versions of the wildly popular B-777. For good measure, they even updated the B-747 with the 787-8 Intercontinental, which showed limited interest from commercial operators, but has proven successful with freight operators. Currently Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air operate the passenger version. A 2014 press release from Boeing touted the 1,500th delivery of the B-747, to Lufthansa, the 14th B-747-8 out of 19 ordered. Lufthansa was the launch customer for the type, first taking delivery in 2012.

In 2017 Singapore Airlines, the A-380 launch customer, announced the retirement of their first A-380 which had been delivered in 2007. Since commercial aircraft are designed for a useful life of 25 years or more, at ten years this aircraft was still relatively young. Last February, Airbus cancelled the A-380 program after Emirates, the largest A-380 operator, expressed no further interest in the aircraft beyond the 14 remaining on order. Airbus will close the line in 2021 after the remaining aircraft are delivered. In an interview with CNN at the time of the announcement, Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders described the decision as painful, continuing,

"...But obviously we need to be realistic," adding "With the decision of Emirates to reduce orders, our order backlog is not sufficient to sustain production."

In July, Air France-KLM announced that they would retire their A-380s by 2022 to reduce costs and improve fuel efficiency. Other airlines such as Qatar and Qantas have expressed the desire to retire A-380s from their fleets by 2024 and 2030 respectively, while IAG’s British Airways has expressed interest in possibly adding several leased A-380s to their fleet. I n addition to fuel efficiency concerns, the cost of refitting early models has proven cost-prohibitive for many operators.

Emirates A380/Photo Credit: mkjr

Few of the international operators of the A-380 took delivery of more than a dozen aircraft, apart from Lufthansa (14), Singapore (24) and Emirates which has taken delivery of over 100. November 2017 Emirates press release touted the delivery of their 100th A-380, out of a total of 142 ordered with a value of $61B. Emirates has since reduced their total ordered aircraft to 123, with all remaining models to be delivered by 2021. The A-380 is destined to remain an integral part of Emirates fleet for at least another decade or more. While the double-decker A-380 is a technological marvel and wonder to behold, it was simply the wrong aircraft at the wrong time. However, like Concorde before her, we’re glad she took flight and hope to see her flying for years to come.

Source(s): Boeing, CNN, Emirates, Air France-KLM, British Airways



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