Fifteen years ago, no one envisaged that the operation of the A380 would turn sour because of an epidemic: on April 27, 2005, in Toulouse (where the plane is assembled), the first test flight Airbus’ hope of reigning in the very wide-body market, then dominated by the aging Boeing 747, materialized. During the development of the program, the European aircraft manufacturer estimated that it could sell 1,300 aircraft in twenty years.
Difficulties from marketing
However, since its commercial launch in 2007, difficulties have accumulated: tensions between the French and German teams during the industrialization of manufacturing, financial crisis of 2008 … In addition, thanks to the increased reliability of the engines, the companies have allowed to travel long distances with jets.
The success, in recent years, of the Boeing B787s and Airbus A350s, attests to the appetite of airlines for these long-haul medium-capacity aircraft, lowering the cost of fuel per passenger transported compared to quadreactors like the A380, which is also more expensive to maintain.
Not enough connecting flights for the A380
In addition, the success of the new juggernaut was conditioned by a redevelopment of the airports likely to accommodate it, as well as by a high occupancy rate. One point explains that Emirates, with its giant Dubai airport, was by far the first of the fourteen customer companies, accounting for almost half of the 240 aircraft delivered to date.
After several years of sluggish orders, the program was halted in February 2019, signifying an end to the race for gigantism in which the airlines were not found. Today’s traffic is mainly generated by so-called “point-to-point” flights, such as those operated by low-cost airlines, that is, without connecting flights.
A withdrawal already started
Before the crisis, Air France-KLM had already planned to advance to 2022 the withdrawal of the nine A380s from its fleet. The question now arises whether it will be able to return them to service by then, since international traffic will be very slow to resume. As of 2019, Lufthansa had sold six of its fourteen A380s and is expected to part with other copies. Those of British Airways are accumulating on the tarmac of the former NATO base in Châteauroux (Indre).
“Airbus has already marked the end of the A380 program and redirected its growth to the A350 or the single-aisle A321 XLR”, notes Arnaud Aymé, of Sia Partners. For the aircraft manufacturer, the current crisis threatens its current programs much more than that of its former flagship.