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The bleak future of the Airbus A380

Aviation Updates Philippines – We have known the majestic Airbus A380-800 as the largest passenger aircraft in the world. Its unique fully double-deck design attracted business travelers, and most especially, aviation enthusiasts worldwide. The humongous size of the A380 is a marvelous feat, but that comes with a heavy price.

Airbus A380 of Emirates
THE JUMBO. An Airbus A380-800 of Emirates arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in 2015, the first passenger flight of the jumbo to Manila. Photo from Emirates, Twitter

Airbus, the leading aircraft manufacturer in Europe, plans to halt the Airbus A380 production in 2021 after its largest customer, Emirates, issued a reduction of jumbojet orders in favor of the newer Airbus A330-900neo and the Airbus A350-900. 

The "most preferred aircraft in the world" did not sell well. The huge capacity of the aircraft proved to be unprofitable for most airlines who have operated the aircraft. Well, at least for Lufthansa and Qantas. Emirates, however, seems to be a satisfied customer of the A380, with 115 in service as of May 2020. 

The capacity the A380 brings seems to be a bit too much for today's airlines. Even well-known airlines had difficulty filling up the jumbo in their day-to-day operations. Qantas canceled orders for the A380 in February last year, and Lufthansa sold at least six jets back to Airbus also last year.

Now, what's wrong with the A380? To be frank, the A380 is too huge for the market we have today. If the A380 could have been released a decade earlier, its entry into service would have been more timely as we saw the skyrocketing growth of air travel through hub-and-spoke networks at that period.

At this point in the aviation industry, airlines have been transitioning from the hub-and-spoke to the point-to-point system, fueled with the introduction of more practical twin-engine long-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 787 series and the Airbus A350 family. The A380, in retrospect, was designed for a hub system, and not for direct flights to secondary airports.

To review, the Airbus A380 can only be accommodated through specialized gates in certain airports. This was a costly move for the aviation sector since airports had to retrofit aircraft gates or even completely build a new one just to make the aerodrome A380-capable. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), as an example, cannot practically operate a passenger jumbojet flight.

COVID-19 is fast-tracking its retirement

The recent and on-going COVID-19 pandemic changed the whole landscape for the Airbus A380 fleet worldwide. There's not much room for the jet in the crisis-stricken industry. Airlines have taken the crisis as an opportunity for them to cross-out unprofitable and old aircraft types in their operations. In short, the A380, including the Boeing 747, which are both iconic aircraft, are now getting dumped.

Airlines worldwide have been grounding their aircraft, especially those that are costly and complicated to operate. Lufthansa previously announced that it will retire its 14-strong jumbojet fleet through May as the crisis worsens. Similarly, Asiana Airlines, Korean Air, and Qantas made decisions to ground the A380 for the meantime as well.

For a bit of brighter news nonetheless, Lufthansa Technik is currently converting an Airbus A380 passenger aircraft into a dedicated-freighter plane for an undisclosed customer, the first passenger-to-cargo conversion for the A380 aircraft since its introduction in 2007. This could spell a new life for some of these jets as the airline industry scrambles to cope with increasing cargo demand.

To recall, Airbus initially offered the Airbus A380F. But due to a not-so-promising response from cargo airlines, it did not push. Airbus, according to rumors, is planning to build an Airbus A350F for FedEx. It looks like, at this very period in time, the four-engine long-haul aircraft could go extinct. Do not get me wrong though, these four-engine aircraft are a beaut!

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