The World's Biggest Passenger Airplane Might Soon Be Dead

Image: AP
Image: AP

The Airbus A380 weighs over 300 tons empty and, as of the year of our Lord 2018, is the world’s biggest passenger airliner still in production. Alas, all things must die and, as The New York Times reports, the A380, too, might soon die.

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The only airline left still purchasing the plane is Emirates, and John Leahy, Airbus’s chief operating officer, said that if Emirates stops ordering, that’s likely the end for the A380. The problem is it was designed to be really big, since Airbus expected the world’s biggest airports to get ever busier when they unveiled the plane in 1995.

What happened instead, as the NYT notes, is that airlines went smaller, and instead of using big airports started taking off and landing at mid-sized ones in smaller planes.

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In short, very few people want or have the need for one humongous plane.

All of which has left Airbus with a single customer for the A380, and the stark realization that the end might be nigh:

“If we can’t work out a deal with Emirates, I think there is no choice but to shut down the program,” Mr. Leahy said during a webcast with journalists.

“But,” he added, “I’m hopeful that we’ll work out a deal.”

Emirates, based in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, did not respond to a request for comment.

Airbus builds at least six A380s a year, and, despite the headwinds (heh, get it, little airplane joke), Leahy thinks that the double-decker A380 might still have a future since air travel does keep increasing overall.

It’ll probably just keep increasing in smaller planes, though.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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DISCUSSION

govtminion
GovtMinion

When I was in aviation school we had a few spirited debates about whether the future was the modest-sized twin-engine bird with insane range (787) or the gigantic bird that can carry a village’s worth of people on a more conventional trip system. Both had pros and cons (this was around 1999/2000), and neither side was willing to give on any of it.

Well, about two decades later we have our answer. There’s still a place for huge planes like this (cargo carrying, for example, or routes that have enormous numbers of passengers and thus require either more trips or larger planes), but it looks like Boeing’s way paid off in this duel. (Of course, it also means the 747 is dead as well, so the party hats can stay in the cabinets in Everett...)

I’ll be interested to see if there’s a follow-on in a decade or so to the A380/747 style giant civilian aircraft mantle- that it didn’t work out for Airbus here doesn’t mean the demand is dead forever.