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Can the Airbus A380 Survive the Pandemic?

By Alicia Arizpe | Fri, 05/22/2020 - 16:20

Once considered a game changer for the aviation industry, the Airbus A380 sadly was never as popular as expected. Its purchasing orders quickly stagnated, raising questions of the airplane’s viability in modern markets. Currently,, the COVID-19 pandemic is placing a further burden on the aircraft leading industry officials to put to the question its future.

A380 was introduced to the market in October 2007 and represented Airbus’ bet that the aviation market would rely on major airport hubs, which would be supplemented by smaller aircrafts in reference to the “hub-and-spoke” model. This scenario required medium to small aircrafts to carry passengers to and from airport hubs and large aircrafts that would directly connect to those hubs. To cater to this scenario, Airbus developed what now has become the largest passenger airplane in the world. The A380 is a four engine, double-decker behemoth that offers 50 percent more floor surface than its closest competitor and can carry 544 passengers in a four-class configuration. If an A380 were to be furnished with only economy class seats, it could fit up to 853 people. This enormous aircraft has a 79.75m wingspan, an overall length of 72.72m and a height of 24.09m. It also comes with a US$450 million price tag.

Airbus had significant expectations for this behemoth. When the company launched the program to develop it in 2000, the aviation industry was growing steadily with a predilection for the hub and spoke model. Under these circumstances, Airbus expected that the market would eventually need 1,200 super jumbos and hoped  to capture over half of the market, with the rest going to its closer competitor, the Boeing 787. At the height of its popularity, the A380 visited Mexico daily through Air France’s Mexico City-Paris route.

However, during its 13-year operation,  Airbus only got a third of the 750 orders it expected. By 2020, airlines had placed only 251 orders in total. The reason for the shortage in orders was the market’s shift towards a “point-to-point” model, which was becoming increasingly popular with travelers, as it involved flying directly to the desired destination using smaller aircraft, requiring less travel time and layovers. Seeing the drop in demand, Airbus announced it would stop producing the jumbo jet in 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid another punch to the already troubled airplane company. Closed borders and shelter in place policies have brought aviation to lows not seen in recent years. With demand for flights plunging across the globe and no end in sight to the outbreak. Airlines operating the A380 are wondering whether it is a viable option for their future routes. Emirates, with 123 orders and 115 aircrafts on its possession is  A380’s largest buyer. The company is planning to retire some of these planes and looking to cancel some of the pending orders. To make matter worse,  Air France, which operates nine of these planes that have been grounded by the pandemic, announced that it would permanently retire them.

These measures, taken under the assumption that the aviation industry will take a long time to recover from the COVID-19 outbreak, might spell trouble for the largest passenger airplane in the world.

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer