Will Airbus Be Forced To Release Another A380?

Airbus A380-800 wearing the Airbus house colours arriving in Moscow, Russia for the very first time.
  • The Airbus A380 was introduced in 2007 as an ultra-high-capacity airliner but would ultimately struggle to attract interest from customers.
  • Airbus would present the A380plus towards the mid-way point of the 2010s as a new solution to airlines’ requirements for high-capacity aircraft, but this would ultimately fail.
  • Now, following the global pandemic, Emirates calls for a new A380 to help meet growing demand in slot-restricted airports. Will Airbus be forced to build it?

The Airbus A380, introduced in 2007, was, during its debut, labelled as a revolutionary aircraft for the long-haul market. The plane offered unprecedented capacity for long-haul flights thanks to its double-decker nature.

However, as the industry has developed a place for the Airbus A380 has seemingly become more questionable. While enjoying a resurgence following the rebound from the global pandemic, production ceased in 2021. As a result, customers are forced to look towards the next generation of their long-haul widebody operations.

Following a resurgence and Emirates’ calls for a new A380, will the European plane maker be forced to produce a type, or will it stick towards future technologies to help propel it forward in the market?

Introducing The Airbus A380

The A380-800, with its sheer size, meant the ability to carry hundreds of passengers no matter the configuration was present. This capacity upgrade over previously existing widebody was appealing to carriers worldwide. A high-capacity jet was essential, especially for those who flew on in-demand routes to slot-restricted airports.

Once delivered, airlines would focus on designing a layout that would address their needs for specific routes and adhere to what customers wanted for their journeys. Thanks to the sheer size of the type, airlines could get radical with their cabin products, in most cases looking to one-up each other and offer something innovative that would crush the competition.

However, despite its success from a passenger standpoint, the A380 experienced its fair share of struggles that impacted its lifespan within the industry. One of the overarching issues was the lack of customer interest in the program. While Emirates ordered over 100 units and other customers expressed interest, several sales pitches resulted in Emirates coming up empty-handed.

Airbus would explore several other ideas to try to push the A380’s success in the long term.

Airbus’ Failed A380plus Study

In an attempt to breathe new life into the A380 program, Airbus unveiled the A380plus. The proposed A380plus aimed to improve the efficiency and economics of the A380-800, thus making it more attractive to airlines. This makes a lot of sense as the A380 had its fair share of critics, so an A380lus allowed the plane maker to address these issues.

Airbus released the A380plus as a study to address some of the initial concerns with the A380-800
A rendering of the development study by Airbus known as the A380plus

Airbus would offer features on this plus variant, such as winglets, a higher MTOW, more range, and the ability to carry more passengers. However, Airbus ultimately decided not to proceed with the A380plus.

Apart from the grand reveal at a leading air show, little was heard of the plus again. It faded away similarly to what was seen with the A380-800s production. An announcement of the end of the A380 program would come only a handful of years after the A380plus, signalling this concept was indeed the last attempt at the plane maker to keep interest alive.

The Global Pandemic’s Arrival Hurt The A380

When the global pandemic arrived, high-capacity planes felt the brunt of the effects of the drop in travel demand. A significant shift saw airline priorities move towards smaller, more economical aircraft, resulting in airlines grounding or retiring their A380 fleets.

Additionally, the pandemic accelerated the retirement plans for several A380 operators. Airlines were forced into a state of reassessment, which meant that their fleets were put under a fine microscope amid the unprecedented state of the industry and uncertain markets. It was an unfortunate reality of the period, leaving the A380 fleet decimated even as demand began crawling back.

A New Era For The Airbus A380?

However, as demand returned, while the A380 would rebound, emerging aircraft viewed as potential replacements were delayed. This came as supply chains were hampered, and manufacturers could not get away with these new planes on time.

As a result, airlines expecting these aircraft needed vital capacity to meet the returning demand. This shocked most because analysts initially forecasted a prolonged return to peak capacity. Ultimately, it came back instantly for most markets, and global airlines couldn’t keep up.

Despite the pandemic’s lows, several airlines remained adamant that when demand returned, they would bring the A380 back to service. However, other operators were sure the series would never fly again due to its inefficient nature and sheer size.

The inability to acquire next-generation aircraft on time meant that customers such as Lufthansa, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways were forced to return the type to service. In a bit of resurgence for the series, the need for the A380 had returned, and airlines worldwide have begun flying the type again.

While numbers are significantly lower than pre-COVID, thanks to retirements from several airlines such as Malaysia Airlines, China Southern, Air France and Thai Airways, the A380 is enjoying success.

The Many Questions Of The Airbus A380 In 2024

Thanks to the resurgence of the A380, questions were presented over whether the A380 came too early, whether there’s still a long-term place for the type like that and whether Airbus should build a new aircraft.

Additional pressures for a new plane can be felt from the leading and largest customer, Emirates, who flew over 100 units at its peak. Emirates executives have on multiple occasions voiced their appeal for a new Airbus A380 that would harbour substantial improvements.

This new type, the A380neo, was designed to enhance fuel efficiency and overall performance while potentially addressing concerns plaguing the original model. These were concerns that Emirates believed were not addressed with the A380plus concept many years back. This is largely why the airline stood firm and wasn’t interested in the A380plus.

No A380neo Or New A380 Coming

However, despite Emirates’ interest, Airbus hasn’t proceeded with the A380neo due to a lack of a broader market demand for such an aircraft. Additionally, the development costs and limited interest from other airlines would make the business case for the A380neo unviable.

Despite these claims, Emirates could have a point that slot restrictions won’t get any better unless more airports are built. Which in most cases presents concerns in itself as airports struggle to this day to expand with all the hurdles surrounding politics.

In most cases, sending in high-capacity airliners might be the solution for some of these larger carriers. Plus, customers love it. Several factors must be weighed when considering the possibility of Airbus releasing a new version of the A380. On the positive side, the A380’s large capacity could still be relevant for airlines operating in slot-constrained airports or high-traffic routes.

However, others would argue that the A380 only works with a handful of carriers and by the time the 777X is certified in 2025, this will fill the role of the A380 to a certain extent, and airlines will be forced to shift towards more efficient twin-engine aircraft.

Will Airbus Be Forced To Build A New A380?

Ultimately, for the Airbus A380, production ceased in 2021, and the plane maker has already begun moving ahead with its next era of flight. The company has gone as far as to reassign the assembly hall to its popular A321 program.

Pegasus Airlines first Airbus A321neo produced at the new final assembly line in Toulouse, France
Pegasus Airlines first Airbus A321neo produced at the new final assembly line in Toulouse, France which previously housed the Airbus A380, marking a new era for operations.

While Emirates remains interested in a new type, there would have to be considerable interest from other airlines for Airbus even to consider producing a new type. The substantial costs associated are immediately a turn-off for the manufacturer.

Additionally, with airlines wanting new engines to maximise efficiency, it isn’t just Airbus that would be involved in producing a new type; engine manufacturers would also need to put forward their latest technology for implementation.

Ultimately, while engine manufacturers study next-generation tech, on most occasions, these haven’t been proven for commercial usage and certainly not intended for such a plane as a new A380.

As a result, Airbus cannot be forced to build a new A380. However, never say never, and if enough market demand arrives for a type, the plane maker may be compelled to consider its options in the future.

Daniel Fowkes
18 Dec 2023
· Aircraft 
· Analysis 

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