The Airbus A380’s days of ferrying more than 500 passengers through the sky are numbered. On Thursday, Airbus announced it would not manufacture its venerable superjumbo airliner beyond 2021, with its main contractor, Emirates Airlines, uninterested in further orders.
Emirates, the Dubai-based carrier, decided to reduce its A380 fleet from 162 to 123 aircraft, which spurred this move by Airbus. The plane manufacturer will deliver 14 more jets to Emirates by 2021, but cease manufacturing the giant four-engine, double-decker aircraft afterward.
Instead, Emirates is poised to bolster its fleet with 40 of Airbus’ newer generation A330-900 and 30 A350-900 planes, seizing on the trend of lightweight and fuel-efficient aircraft that carry fewer passengers between major hubs. Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said in a statement:
“As a result of this decision we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years. This leads to the end of A380 deliveries in 2021. The consequences of this decision are largely embedded in our 2018 full year results.”
Although the A380 drew comparisons to the Concorde upon its debut in 2004, it ultimately failed to reinvent commercial air travel like the supersonic jet did decades earlier. The airliner did help Emirates bolster its reputation as a luxury carrier, with lavish suites often serving a wealthy clientele in and out of its main hub in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Emirates A380s would feature extravagant amenities such as showers and ample champagne.
But the fate of the airliner hinged largely upon Emirates, according to Enders, who recently delivered the news to analysts in a conference call. “It’s a painful decision,” he said, according to CNN. He continued, saying:
“We’ve invested a lot of effort, a lot of resources and a lot of sweat into this aircraft. But obviously we need to be realistic. With the decision of Emirates to reduce orders, our order backlog is not sufficient to sustain production…”But keep in mind that A380s will still roam the skies for many years to come and Airbus will of course continue to fully support the A380 operators.”
The decision to curtail production could have a calamitous effect on Airbus’A380 manufacturing unit over the next few years, which employs 3,000 to 3,500 people. The company says “the ongoing A320 ramp-up and the new widebody order from Emirates Airline will offer a significant number of internal mobility opportunities.”
The writing had been on the wall for the A380 for quite some time: In 2017, Delta CEO Ed Bastian admitted the hulking airliner’s problems outweighed its benefits, saying: “Most operators of the A380 I’ve talked to are not thrilled with the performance of the A380 given the cost.”
The company has delivered only 234 A380s since the debut flight in 2005, when it lifted off from Airbus’ hometown of Toulouse, France, per CNN. That’s a marked shortcoming of its original intention to deliver 1,200 planes.
Airbus’ flagship plane is primed for a similar fate as another gargantuan aviation legend: the Boeing 747. Despite reaching its 50th birthday this week, Boeing has had a hard time delivering the once-vaunted jet, as airlines continuously seek smaller, fuel-efficient aircraft. While the 747 has fought off extinction by repurposing itself as a cargo plane, it remains to be seen whether the Airbus A380—a plane manufactured with the express purpose of luxury travel—can reinvent itself in a similar way.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics