Airbus Terminates Production of A380

by Douglas Royce, Senior Aerospace Analyst, Forecast International.

Airbus will terminate production of its flagship A380 widebody in the wake of a decision by Emirates airline to cancel 39 of its remaining orders for the type.  Emirates now plans to take delivery of only 14 more A380s over the next two years and will instead order 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900 twin-engine widebody airliners.

“As a result of this decision, we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years.  This leads to the end of A380 deliveries in 2021,” Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders said in a statement announcing the decision.

Airbus will start discussions with its social partners in the next few weeks regarding the 3,000 to 3,500 positions potentially impacted over the next three years.  However, the ongoing A320 ramp-up and the new widebody order from Emirates airline will offer a significant number of internal mobility opportunities.

Airbus previously announced plans to deliver only eight A380 aircraft in 2019.  The decision followed years of declining demand and a shrinking backlog for Airbus’ biggest airliner.  The A380 has long been a niche product, with its primary markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.  Fleet sizes tend to be small; only three airlines – Emirates, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines – have ordered more than 20 aircraft.  Most customers have ordered fewer than 10.

The A380 must be flown with high load factors to be cost-efficient versus smaller twin-engine widebodies, so the A380 is suitable for use only on highly trafficked routes.

Airbus believes that airport congestion and increased travel between large, distant city pairs will eventually force airlines to buy super-jumbo airliners in order to maximize traffic through large airports whose slots are typically in short supply.  So far, the airlines have coped with slot constraints by moving to larger seating capacity in twin-engine aircraft rather than buying very large airliners like the A380 and Boeing 747-8I.  Airlines often can avoid big-city bottlenecks by operating from secondary airports or flying direct on less highly trafficked routes.  The market has not developed the way Airbus expected it to when the A380 program was launched.

In standard configurations, the Airbus A350-1000 seats 366 passengers and Boeing’s revamped 777-9X will be able to seat more than 400 passengers.  While not entirely removing the need for the A380, the development of these new models has minimized it.

Airbus executives have resisted letting the program die given the prestige they attach to building the world’s biggest passenger jet.  However, Airbus management is currently in flux.  Airbus CEO Tom Enders is scheduled to depart in a couple of months; and with Emirates canceling so many orders, it makes sense to kill the program before new management takes the helm.

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