Airbus axes the A380

Airbus has announced it will end A380 production in 2021.
S Ramadier/Airbus

Airbus is to end production of the A380. The last examples of the super jumbo will leave the Toulouse Final Assembly Line in 2021 after 13 years in production and 313 aircraft sold.

The move followed Emirates reaching an agreement with Airbus over its remaining A380 deliveries.

The Gulf carrier has decided to reduce its A380 orders from 162 to 123, with the airline receiving only 14 more A380s up to the end of 2021. The lack of orders from other airlines meant Airbus could not sustain production beyond that point; the only other outstanding orders are three aircraft for All Nippon Airways, the first of which will enter service this spring.

The A380 had for years been heavily reliant on Emirates’ repeat orders and it was clear the UAE carrier would be decisive in the programme’s future. With Emirates rethinking its last A380 order placed just over a year ago, the writing was on the wall. Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders told a news conference: “We need to be realistic about it.

After everything we tried on the sales front [and] our engineers with new proposals the response from the market was, to put it mildly, very weak and we had no other choice to deal with it in an economic way.”

Of course, closing the production line does not mean the A380 programme ends; Airbus will continue to provide support for the in-service fleet and Emirates said A380s will remain in its fleet “well into the 2030s”.

Nonetheless, this is a watershed. Airbus long believed the A380 offered a solution for congested airports and rising air passenger numbers. In reality, demand for a high capacity quad-jet was dampened by efficient long-range twin-engine widebodies such as Boeing 777s and 787s and Airbus’ own A350. Tellingly, as the axe fell on A380 production, Emirates also announced it has signed an agreement with Airbus to acquire 40 A330-900s and 30 A350-900s, which will be delivered starting in 2021 and 2024 respectively.

Early in the A380 programme there was hype about how the double-decker aircraft would restore glamour to air travel and, indeed, many operators have introduced fancy on board features for premium passengers such as bars, showers and suites. Travellers in less-plush economy class also highly rate the A380 for space and quietness.

However, operating economics matter above all else in the airline business, and the A380 was simply out of step with the leaner twinjets. Enders reflected: “What we’re seeing here is the end of the large four-engine aircraft. There’s been speculation for years over whether we were ten years too early with the A380. I think it’s clear we were probably ten years too late or more.”