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Airbus Retiring Its Jaw-Dropping Giant, the A380, in an Industry Gone Nimble

RNCollins

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Airbus Retiring Its Jaw-Dropping Giant, the A380, in an Industry Gone Nimble
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/business/airbus-a380.html

By Amie Tsang and David Segal / Business / The New York Times / nytimes.com / 2/14/2019

“TOULOUSE, France — Since a solo flight by the Wright brothers on the shore of North Carolina more than a century ago, the size of airplanes has gone in one direction — up. But the era of ever larger jets, and the romantic idea of continent-hopping travel they inspired, came to an unofficial end with the announcement by Airbus on Thursday that it plans to cease production of the A380, the largest passenger airliner ever built.

An engineering marvel expansive enough for showers and sleekly designed bars, the planes hark back to the age when flying had glamour. The four engines are powerful enough to reach cruising altitude in roughly 15 minutes, all the while keeping noise to a tolerable hum. There are fan clubs for the A380 on both Twitter and Facebook.

But for years, the jet has been far more popular with passengers than airlines. When it debuted in 2005, the A380 was a bet that the future of air travel was big planes flying between major hubs, followed by connectors to final destinations.

Instead, the dominant trend became smaller planes and direct flights. Dropping $445 million for a jet — the A380’s list price — that can carry more than 500 people made little economic sense, especially as budget airlines cropped up as competition.

Airbus, which is based in Toulouse, struggled to market the A380 for years and never sold one to an American carrier. Citing reduced orders from Emirates Airline, a major customer, and an inability to find other buyers, the company said it would halt deliveries of the jetliner in 2021. (It will continue to support existing A380s.)...”

FA7EFF5C-F13E-4404-BA29-A4F83946FC32.jpeg

Airbus spent $25 billion developing the double-decker, four-engine aircraft, which can carry more than 500 passengers while offering amenities like showers and a bar.
Photo Credit: Michael Nagle for The New York Times
 

Sapper

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The A380 never should have been built, everyone knew it was an economic disaster from the word go. I remember when the A380 was announced an interview with the CEO of Boeing, and they asked him if it was a threat to Boeing. He said no, that the future of commercial aviation was smaller aircraft (like the B737 series) servicing more airports. The competitive advantage the A380 had was economy per seat mile. Boeing revised their systems design (removed bleed air from leading edge heat and PACS, replacing with an additional generator on the engines and electrically operating the heat and PACS). Boeing's design change removed the A380 competitive advantage of economy per seat mile. This advantage was further eroded when you consider that to fill 95% of the seats on an A380 takes 475 people wanting to go the the same place at the same time, where Boeing's smaller aircraft require fewer passengers to make the break even point.
 

WhatTheDogSaid

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Agreed on the technical and economic points above, but it is a magnificent airplane from the passenger’s perspective.
 

Sapper

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Agreed on the technical and economic points above, but it is a magnificent airplane from the passenger’s perspective.
Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to fly one, in the front or in the back.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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The A380 never should have been built, everyone knew it was an economic disaster from the word go. I remember when the A380 was announced an interview with the CEO of Boeing, and they asked him if it was a threat to Boeing. He said no, that the future of commercial aviation was smaller aircraft (like the B737 series) servicing more airports. The competitive advantage the A380 had was economy per seat mile. Boeing revised their systems design (removed bleed air from leading edge heat and PACS, replacing with an additional generator on the engines and electrically operating the heat and PACS). Boeing's design change removed the A380 competitive advantage of economy per seat mile. This advantage was further eroded when you consider that to fill 95% of the seats on an A380 takes 475 people wanting to go the the same place at the same time, where Boeing's smaller aircraft require fewer passengers to make the break even point.
I, too, remember the discussions and commentaries concerning Boeing when the A380 was developed. There were many "experts" who believed that Boeing was compelled to respond, with a competing aircraft; if Boeing didn't, Boeing would be left in the dust.

After discussion and evaluations, Boeing came up with the conclusions mentioned. Boeing instead concluded that airlines were going to do more point-to-point connections on routes that had significant traffic, but didn't warrant an A-380. Or by flying a somewhat smaller aircraft, the airline could provide daily flights instead of partial week schedules, or schedule two flights per day instead of one. This would be driven by providing greater convenience to travelers by avoiding congested major hubs.

So Boeing's response was to develop the 787 Dreamliner, a smaller airplane but with technical innovations that made it cost competitive with the A-380. The 787 project had numerous delays, but when Boeing finally rolled it out, it pretty much killed the A-380. Every airline other than Emirates abandoned the A-380.
 

Sapper

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I, too, remember the discussions and commentaries concerning Boeing when the A380 was developed. There were many "experts" who believed that Boeing was compelled to respond, with a competing aircraft; if Boeing didn't, Boeing would be left in the dust.

After discussion and evaluations, Boeing came up with the conclusions mentioned. Boeing instead concluded that airlines were going to do more point-to-point connections on routes that had significant traffic, but didn't warrant an A-380. Or by flying a somewhat smaller aircraft, the airline could provide daily flights instead of partial week schedules, or schedule two flights per day instead of one. This would be driven by providing greater convenience to travelers by avoiding congested major hubs.

So Boeing's response was to develop the 787 Dreamliner, a smaller airplane but with technical innovations that made it cost competitive with the A-380. The 787 project had numerous delays, but when Boeing finally rolled it out, it pretty much killed the A-380. Every airline other than Emirates abandoned the A-380.
Now that you mention it, I remember some of that same commentary. I also remember some "spy photos" of Boeing assembling the "Dreamlifter" from three 747-400 fuselages and rumors that this was going to be Boeing's answer to the A380. I suppose they were kind of right in that they put parts of the Dreamliner inside it.
 

jacknsara

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I believe Boeing did launch the 747 -8F and -8I derivatives after Airbus launched the A380. While these 747 derivatives did not sell as well as the A380, it was my opinion that they did restrict the price Airbus could get and consequently contributed to inability of the A380 program to become profitable.
Prior to both these launches, Boeing and Airbus conducted a multi-year joint study about an aircraft larger than the 747. I believe Boeing's position was that it would never be profitable; I believe Airbus thought Boeing was just trying to keep Airbus out of the large capacity end of the market.
Here we are nearly thirty years later.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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I believe Boeing's position was that it would never be profitable; I believe Airbus thought Boeing was just trying to keep Airbus out of the large capacity end of the market.
Here we are nearly thirty years later.
And, in essence, Boeing ceded to Airbus the "pan-747" market. And while Airbus put resources into the A-380, Boeing put its resources into the 787 and put a huge hole in the Airbus market.

Looking back in time, with the 30-year perspective, I think it's reasonable to wonder whether the Airbus decision to build the A-380 was disconnected from market reality. Was it Airbus execs lost in an edifice complex? Was it Airbus, in some way, kowtowing to their Euro government owners. allowing them to say that Airbus is building the biggest and best bird in the world and eclipsing their North American/US rival? A combination of the two?
 

Sapper

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I believe Boeing did launch the 747 -8F and -8I derivatives after Airbus launched the A380. While these 747 derivatives did not sell as well as the A380, it was my opinion that they did restrict the price Airbus could get and consequently contributed to inability of the A380 program to become profitable.
Prior to both these launches, Boeing and Airbus conducted a multi-year joint study about an aircraft larger than the 747. I believe Boeing's position was that it would never be profitable; I believe Airbus thought Boeing was just trying to keep Airbus out of the large capacity end of the market.
Here we are nearly thirty years later.
The 747-800 series may have come after the A380, but it was just an evolutional development of a design who's first commercial flight was in 1969! Here it is 2019, fifty years after the first commercial flight and they are still rolling one a month off the assembly line.
 

T_R_Oglodyte

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The 747-800 series may have come after the A380, but it was just an evolutional development of a design who's first commercial flight was in 1969! Here it is 2019, fifty years after the first commercial flight and they are still rolling one a month off the assembly line.
And all of them are being bought for air cargo.
 

Sapper

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And all of them are being bought for air cargo.
Yup, the cargo guys love the -800.

My understanding is that Boeing would really like to stop making them, but they keep getting orders.
 
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