back to article Airbus will shutter its A380 production line from 2021

Airbus has declared it will shut down the A380 superjumbo production line in 2021, after demand from airlines for the double-decker aircraft all but collapsed. In its annual financial results published today, Airbus confirmed rumours that it was ending A380 production. Chief exec Tom Enders said in a canned quote: "Due to the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    awww shame, it's a nice bit of kit - both from a "oooh, thats big" and a "oooh, thats nice to fly on" perspective

  2. djstardust Silver badge

    Looks like Boeing won.

    Better business strategy, and of course funding from US government too probably helped a bit.

    The A380 project was a disaster, over budget and late deliveries. Problems at Rolls Royce didn't help either.

    I'm sure they will be in the air for quite some time yet though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Looks like Boeing won.

      The A380 project was a disaster, over budget and late deliveries. Problems at Rolls Royce didn't help either.

      Off the top of my head I can't think of a (genuinely) new aircraft or aero engine from any maker that hasn't been late and over-budget. Risk and significant downside are inherent in any complex engineering project, and if you budgeted the potential downside in there would be little civil aircraft development.

      As for Boeing winning, I'd note that it is questionable whether the Boeing 787 will ever be profitable, since that cost a staggering $32bn to develop. With strong sales it might just about breakeven eventually or return a small net profit, but nowhere near its business case. The only rationale (in hindsight) for both companies to develop these (and the A350) was to develop the knowledge and skills to build future aircraft.

    2. pavel.petrman

      Re: Looks like Boeing won.

      "The A380 project was a disaster, over budget and late deliveries."

      "Off the top of my head I can't think of a (genuinely) new aircraft or aero engine from any maker that hasn't been late and over-budget."

      Let's not forget here that even the venerable 747 nearly got the whole of Boeing bankrupt at the beginning. To me it looks more like a lottery even with great business and engineering minds convened on the task. To get going you have to bet all in and then wait for the roulette to stop spinning some time later to see how well that went.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Looks like Boeing won.

      Err no, the market for jumbo and super-jumbo jets has been disappearing for some years now, because of technological advances and cost/benefits of operating fleets of smaller aircraft. For evidence of this I suggest taking a look at Quatas, an airline practically built on long-haul and who once-upon-a-time operated a fleet of 747's.

      Boeing will survive because the US government is more protectionist than the EU.

  3. Ol'Peculier

    So long and thanks for all the airmiles

    Having flown with Emirates a fair bit over the last few years, it's a shame that more carriers won't be taking them. I actually took a later flight back from Dubai last year to be on a 380 rather than a 777.

    However, the load of the plane from Sydney to DBX was sparse, to the point that some lucky buggers got a full four seats in the middle aisle to themselves. It was even quieter the day before, apparently.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: So long and thanks for all the airmiles

      > However, the load of the plane from Sydney to DBX was sparse, to the point that some lucky buggers got a full four seats in the middle aisle to themselves.

      And there's the kicker. Airlines can't afford that.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So long and thanks for all the airmiles

      I flew to the UK recently on Emirates A380. On both the Perth - Dubai and Dubai - Manchester legs I had the full row to myself. Not so lucky on the way back.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: So long and thanks for all the airmiles

        Full row to my self is a real result - especially on an overnight flight US to London.

        Put the arm rests up, lay across all the seats with a loose seatbelt round your upper body and knees and the cabin crew leave you to sleep the flight away.

  4. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    Turns out Airbus was the silly one

    Two decades ago when ultra large aircraft were being discussed, everyone assumed that whomever announced the development program first would be on their own: it was acknowledged that there was only ever a market for one aircraft this size. Turns out there wasn't even that...

    1. steelpillow Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Turns out Airbus was the silly one

      Not silly, unlucky (see roulette post above). Would you have predicted back then that so many countries and airlines would develop lower-capacity direct flights to secondary airports, to such an extent that when the banking and global warming crises hit, demand for primary routes would actually reduce? You would have? Oh, check your pants, I think they are on fire.

      1. rcxb

        Re: Turns out Airbus was the silly one

        There were twin-engine jets from both Boeing and Airbus flying trans-Atlantic, and the ETOPS rules went into effect in 1985, years before the very first steps in A380 development. The future direction of air travel was out there for any well-informed individuals in the industry to see.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Turns out Airbus was the silly one

          Hindsight is a fabulous thing, but I suspect things would have played out differently if it hadn't been for the 2008 crisis.

          There was a technological, regulatory and risk avoidance barrier to acceptance of ETOPS by both regulators and airlines. Back in 2007-2010, relatively few operators were flying ETOPS. Nowadays it is every one of them and their dog.

          But yeah, your point stands that they may have bet on the wrong horse.

  5. rg287 Bronze badge

    With ever more long-range, medium-sized aircraft such as Airbus's own A350 and Boeing's 787 on the market, the traditional hub-and-spoke model that most airlines still operate on began to disintegrate. Why make a long journey to a large hub airport such as Heathrow or Amsterdam when there are aircraft capable of flying you direct to your destination from your closest airport?

    Indeed. BA note: I have no desire or reason to travel to Heathrow if I want to fly internationally.

    There are no magic routes that I can do from LHR that I can't also do from MAN.

    "To Fly, To Serve... London"

    1. m0rt Silver badge

      "There are no magic routes that I can do from LHR that I can't also do from MAN"

      True.

      However, I will say this about MAN.

      Worst luggage handling ever. I mean seriously! I flew from Sweden and getting my bag took longer than the flight itself.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Worst luggage handling ever. I mean seriously! I flew from Sweden and getting my bag took longer than the flight itself.

        You've obvously not tried Lyon. Slowest passport control & baggage claim I've ever had the misfortune to suffer.

    2. Ol'Peculier
      Pint

      Due to Air Canada being useless I ended up at LHR last year, to transfer terminals to get a BA flight to MAN. A joyless couple of hours sat reflecting on what I missed about the place.

      Pint later, I realised there was nothing. A word I also used at reclaim, but that's due to the eejits at AC...

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      The other thing that killed hub & spoke is the security theatre. You have to suffer it twice, and with 500+ people deplaning from an A380 or queueing up to board it's even more miserable.

      Its a nice enough plane, fairly quiet & smooth, but I'm not sure I'd claim that economy on it is like business class elsewhere, especially with the appalling rock-hard plastic seats that BA use in cattle class. Add to that the delays of loading and unloading 500+ people and I avoid them whenever I can. I'd much rather have a 787 or 777. I won't miss it, to be honest.

      1. Andy Denton

        I flew from Manchester to Auckland (via Dubai and Brisbane) on an Emirates A380 a couple of years ago and despite it being the longest trip I've ever had (is there a longer one?), it was the most pleasant economy class experience I've ever had. Airbus planes seem to be quieter and smoother than their Boeing counterparts from my (limited) experience.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I would concurr with the comment made by Andy Denton.

          My work has indirectly afforded me the opportunity to fly on pretty much all of the "current" aircraft on the market.

          The A380 would indeed be the top of my list. If you ignore the "500 smelly bodies" bit, the aircraft itself is lovely to fly in. Its a quieter and smoother experience as passenger than pretty much anything out there on the market.

          Next best is the 787. Its also lovely and quiet, but basic aerodynamics dictates its not as smooth as the A380.

          Number three is the upper deck on the 747, which is quiet because of its location far away from the engines and AC packs, not because the aircraft is quiet.

          Beyond that, the rest of them are nothing special.

  6. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Just to big to win

    One thing not mentioned about the A380 freight version was that it was actually just too big. Basically by the time you hit the weight limit it was only 60% full, meaning it was not as efficient as the 747 freighter. However we might see a version for carrying very large objects when they start coming out of service.

    Also RR will take a hit, since the Trent 900 was the primary engine used on the type

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just to big to win

      Also RR will take a hit, since the Trent 900 was the primary engine used on the type

      I doubt it - I think nobody at RR was banking on the A380 securing many new orders, they're well aware of the move to large twin motors.

      1. A.P. Veening

        Re: Just to big to win

        "I think nobody at RR was banking on the A380 securing many new orders"

        And that makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy as the ongoing problems with the RR engines delivered the killing blow.

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Just to big to win

          R-R are in fact in pole position for the twin-engine boom. They sell more pairs of Trents into that than they ever sold quad sets for the A380, and I am sure they have no intention of going to sleep.

          1. A.P. Veening

            Re: Just to big to win

            They went to sleep on the engines for the A380 could have sold a lot more if they had solved the problems in time.

            1. SkippyBing Silver badge

              Re: Just to big to win

              To be fair far more of Rolls-Royce's A380 engines stayed on the aircraft...

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Just to big to win

                "To be fair far more of Rolls-Royce's A380 engines stayed on the aircraft..."

                I think it is one apiece. QF 32 was an RR engine, Air France 66 was an Engine Alliance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just to big to win

      " However we might see a version for carrying very large objects when they start coming out of service."

      Unlikely, unless they are retired from service very early, due to the life of the airframe. It wouldn't be worth modifying the fuselage to accept large cargo with a limited number of flying hours left on the wings.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Just to big to win

        A lot of cargo aircraft are old passenger aircraft. I live near a cargo hub, and you see aircraft, that were retired from passenger use years ago, such as MD-11, old Ilyushins.

        Modern passenger aircraft are pretty tough. However the economic costs of their use for passenger use becomes harder to justify as they get older. I don't see Emirates using them for their full life span

  7. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Optimal Sizes

    For any vehicle including aircraft there seems to a series of sizes that nicely fit market needs. Too large or too small or otherwise unusual and the product is not going to be a good enough seller to justify the development costs. Airbus seemed to catch a nice case of gigantism, to beat Boeing let's make an even jet without really considering the overall market. First passengers detest the 'hub-and-spoke' model as means connecting flights. Anyone who has done any amount of flying knows changing planes in Atlanta (or other hub) is a risky proposition. So any aircraft that can bypass the hub are preferable to many travelers. Makes one wonder what they did for market research, like did they ask the passengers what they really wanted.

    1. Jim Mitchell
      Unhappy

      Re: Optimal Sizes

      !!! "did they ask the passengers what they really wanted." !!! Since when have airlines asked their passengers "what they really wanted", and listened?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Optimal Sizes

        Market evidence is that what passengers "really want" is low fares. Passengers may claim they want other things, but the airlines with the cheapest fares (even when the difference is small) seem to do the best at filling seats.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Optimal Sizes

        What do passengers want?

        They want lots of legroom with loads of entertainment, food and drink with nice trolly dollies to ogle.

        They don't want to pay for it.

    2. Stork Bronze badge

      Re: Optimal Sizes

      Generally, from my limited experience, Skiphol, Reykjavik and Copenhagen work for transfers. Palma with Air Berlin did too, but they went bust

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Optimal Sizes

      For a hundred years, the optimum number of engines on a large long-range transport has been four. The optimum size has been rather larger than four of the latest and greatest engines could deliver. Every generation, the size of the biggest planes has been driven by the size of the biggest engines that technology could provide.

      Talk of foolish "gigantism" and suchlike is utter bollocks: Airbus got caught out by the sudden and unpredictable end of a century-long trend.

      Boeing did not drop out of the race because they believed it was senseless, they dropped out because Airbus beat them in both pace and government subsidies. If the widebody twin market had not been ripe for a new generation, Boeing would have had no Plan B.

      Sooner or later, something similar is going to happen with silicon wafer size.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Optimal Sizes

        I'm not sure if I misunderstood you or you're talking nonsense.

        The payload is not (directly) conditioned by the number of engines on an aeroplane, those are there for redundancy (too tired to get into the details), and in fact, four-engined aircraft have less powerful engines than twins.

      2. Jim Mitchell
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Optimal Sizes

        @steelpillow

        "For a hundred years, the optimum number of engines on a large long-range transport has been four."

        You'll have to explain the 4 engine large long-range air transport market of 1918.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Optimal Sizes

          To be fair, steelpillow did not specify air transport. Just "large long-range".

          I don't recall a lot of four-engine trains running in 1918, though. Don't know about steamships.

          1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

            Re: Optimal Sizes

            @Michail Wojcik - Screw steamships normally had the same number of engines as they had screws. Until the introduction of triple-expansion engines it was quite common for a steamship to carry auxiliary sails. With twin-screw ships with triple-expansion engines, auxiliary sail power was deleted. Twin screws were considered adequate on many ships in case an engine broke down mid ocean, limp to port on one screw. Larger ships (Lusitania, Titanic, etc.) often had 3 or 4 engines because of the horsepower they needed for their desired cruising and maximum speed.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Optimal Sizes

          Alcock and Brown managed it on two engines. Gutsy.

    4. Ol'Peculier

      Re: Optimal Sizes

      I've been to south Asia and beyond 4 times over the last five years, and I actually appreciate the stopover in Dubai. Yes, it's a pain getting scanned when you come from the plane to the terminal but as Emirates model is based on getting everybody in from Europe around a certain time, and getting rid of them during the next hour or two works pretty well.

  8. whoseyourdaddy

    Did the A380 ever hit the promised weight tonnage?

    I believe manufacturers make rebate payments to their customers on spec misses such as this...

    1. A.P. Veening

      They did after the first few, which were overweight.

  9. Joe W

    I

    I think it was due to two things: shift away from hub and spoke (except SAS, who do have hubs), and (maybe more importantly) the recent change in safety range ratings. It used to be the case that you needed four engines on some routes. No longer a requirement, so those kerosene guzzlers are no longer needed.

  10. Diogenes

    Airbus should sue airlines for trashing the brand

    It doesnt help when airlines trash the brand(yes QANTAS, i am looking at you) by cramming them in . I know at least 6 people who have sworn never to fly in the A380 again,. Just this morning one of Mrs Diogenes friends posted on FB... "never again on an A380. Thankfully have a few days in Singapore to recover from 12 hour flight from London on QANTAS. Crammed in, not enough toilets, took for ever to check in and load, bags took ages to be unloaded" followed by airline specific complaints such as inedible food, no service etc and lots of "yep same for us, never again"

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Airbus should sue airlines for trashing the brand

      Try Etihad, I have never been on a more than 1/3rd full Etihad flight from London to Abu Dhabi or vice versa. Makes the A380 flight a dream in economy. God knows how they're solvent.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A380 - a disaster?

    "Either it's going to be that flagship of the 21st century, or it's going to be a disaster"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeCYW35xDME&t=204

    Maybe they should pause production for a few years, because the current A380s will need replacing eventually. An updated A380 using many of the same parts, would be far cheaper than a brand new replacement.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank you Gareth

    A very comprehensive article of all the key facts.

    Indeed, the A380 helped Boeing kill the B747… and develop the twin-engined B777, which in turn forced Airbus to work on the A350, taking the wind off the A380s wings, as it were.

    In the meanwhile, it is puzzling that Airbus did not put more effort on its best-selling A320.

    Good point bringing up the evolution of air transport in Europe from hub and spoke to mesh. Ryanair and the lo-co industry that followed played a big part in shaping that. Interestingly, it is a model that brings both more convenience to users and lessens the environmental impact significantly, as I have had the opportunity to witness in my short ten year career in aviation.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Thank you Gareth

      "In the meanwhile, it is puzzling that Airbus did not put more effort on its best-selling A320."

      They are not ignoring it, the NEO version is the latest development.

      Also, the B777 is some 10 years earlier aircraft than A380.

  13. NerryTutkins

    probably end up like concorde

    I can see the A380 going a similar route. Expensive development, sold into a market that moved in the other direction to what was expected, such that it was not economically viable and had to stop production. Since no new ones are being made, the existing ones become a novelty and a status symbol, and being fastest/largest has some niche applications that rich passengers will pay for. In the same way we might not see a faster plane than concorde for 50 years after it first went into service, we might not see a larger plane than the A380 for a similar period.

    With artificial intelligence and automation meaning aircraft may soon be flying without any pilot, the cost savings of larger aircraft in that respect disappear. The only reason to build larger might be in terms of capacity on really busy routes. But even there, technology could well reduce the separation needed between planes for safety, meaning you can achieve the same capacity with two or three smaller aircraft. So quite possibly, the A380 might never be topped.

  14. Adair

    Obligatory anecdotal evidence...

    suggests your MAN and my MAN are two different... er... MEN?

    Anyway, have flown A380 in/out of Manchester for the last four flights - no baggage problems either way.

    Maybe it's you, or maybe I've been lucky? ;-)

  15. devTrail

    The wrong contest

    I read several articles from different sources and all of them frame the story in a contest A380 vs 747, but that's actually misleading. Have a look on the Wikipedia at article about 747 sales, most of those sold the last 10 years were bought by a very small group of cargo carriers, late 747 is not so successful. The truth is that the real contest is comfortable travel vs cattle class ryanair model. It's a pity, the cattle class on a long range trip is a torture, but it seems it will be very difficult to find something in between it and the very expensive business class.

  16. jeffdyer

    Don't say "shutter" for goodness's sake. The word is shut, or close.

  17. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

    So... What price Heathrow's third runway? I see many comments here about the hub and spoke model being dead. And I see others here saying that Emirates flights run way under capacity. (Living near Heathrow, I've also heard similar rumours of half-empty flights.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm not sure where you get your ideas of half-empty flights from. BA have the lion's share of Heathrow slots and they're running at something like 86% load factor, so a long way off your idea of Heathrow ops running "half-empty".

      Heathrow's third runway will actually be hugely beneficial in terms of re-instating proper competition. BA currently have dominance over slots at Heathrow, so the arrival of the third runway will actually even out the playing field. The third runway will provide more opportunities to the other airlines, and it might even force BA to stop the era of Cruz-ification and refocus on customer service and stop turning its product into another LCC.

  18. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Wipes a tear

    A few years back I flew to Australia and discovered that Malaysia Airlines business class was cheaper than Economy Plus on other airlines. For some reason there was a reluctance to use them; can't think why.

    Pro tip - don't assume your tour operator is looking at Business Class when doing the comparisons. Sometimes that is a different team. Looking at you, Trailfinders!

    Anyway, flew to KL on an A380 then on to Sydney in an A320. No real comparison because the A380 seats reclined fully to make a bed and the A320 seats reclined partially to make a slide. Difference between good and awesome. $Deity knows what it was like in Economy.

    Hub and spoke is good for that length of travel. Even if you could fly, say, Auckland to Heathrow non stop that would be the equivalent of an assault course organised by a sadist. Suitable for the young and fit (and possibly stupid) but not for the mature and reflective individual.

    The A380 is IMHO the ultimate in long haul passenger comfort. A shame that sardine cans look to be the future.

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