The Airbus A380 was supposed to revolutionize the global travel market. Instead it never really took off. What happened?

Kevin Alexander

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An Airbus A380 inflight. The assembly line for the giant aircraft closed in 2021.Airbus/CNN

Airbus delivered it’s last A380 “Superjumbo” aircraft in November of 2021. In an industry where production runs often span decades, this line closed after just 16 years.

For an aircraft touted as revolutionary, that’s an incredibly short timeline. What went wrong?

The A380 was designed to be a replacement for Boeing’s 747- the original high-capacity aircraft. The 4-engined 747 was used on high-density and/or high-frequency routes. Airlines would run these planes through hubs to cities with either high demand or ones that were slot constrained (a slot pair= 1 takeoff & 1 landing).

If a carrier didn’t own enough slots, they got around it by sending higher-capacity aircraft to that city. Tokyo is a prime example. Its close-in Haneda airport was severely constrained, while Narita was less so. Carriers used high-capacity planes in this market to accommodate the lack of access.

The Chinese market was similar. Airbus banked on carriers running traffic through Beijing, but the country went on a building spree, opening multiple airfields and enticing carriers to utilize them instead.

At the same time, Boeing was developing a long-haul 2-engine plane, the 787. The 787 banked on a different strategy; flying point to point, avoiding hubs altogether. Emphasizing range over passenger capacity, the plane made viable many thin routes larger aircraft couldn’t.

The 787 was also able to operate into most airfields, whereas sheer size precluded the A380 from doing the same. More importantly, it turned out that most passengers preferred flying directly to their destination, giving the 787 a further advantage.

In the end, it all proved too much for the A380. Many models are already meeting their fate at the hands of scrappers. Meanwhile, 787s continue to roll off the assembly line.

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