Airbus A380-841 (F-WXXL): world’s largest passenger airliner
In mid-1988, Airbus engineers led by Jean Roeder began work in secret on the development of an ultra-high-capacity airliner (UHCA), both to complete its own range of products and to break the dominance that Boeing had enjoyed in this market segment since the early 1970s with its 747.
McDonnell Douglas unsuccessfully offered its double-deck MD-12 concept for sale. Lockheed was exploring the possibility for a Very Large Subsonic Transport.
Roeder was given approval for further evaluations of the UHCA after a formal presentation to the President and CEO in June 1990.
The megaproject was announced at the 1990 Farnborough Airshow, with the stated goal of 15% lower operating costs than the 747-400. 16–17 Airbus organised four teams of designers, one from each of its partners (Aérospatiale, British Aerospace, Deutsche Aerospace AG, CASA) to propose new technologies for its future aircraft designs.
The designs were presented in 1992 and the most competitive designs were used. 17–18 In January 1993, Boeing and several companies in the Airbus consortium started a joint feasibility study of a Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT), aiming to form a partnership to share the limited market.
In June 1994, Airbus announced its plan to develop its own very large airliner, designated as A3XX. Airbus considered several designs, including an unusual side-by-side combination of two fuselages from its A340, the largest Airbus jet at the time. The A3XX was pitted against the VLCT study and Boeing’s own New Large Aircraft successor to the 747.
In July 1995, the joint study with Boeing was abandoned, as Boeing’s interest had declined due to analysis that such a product was unlikely to cover the projected $15 billion development cost. Despite the fact that only two airlines had expressed public interest in purchasing such a plane, Airbus was already pursuing its own large-plane project.
Analysts suggested that Boeing would instead pursue stretching its 747 design, and that air travel was already moving away from the hub-and-spoke system that consolidated traffic into large planes, and toward more non-stop routes that could be served by smaller planes.
From 1997 to 2000, as the 1997 Asian financial crisis darkened the market outlook, Airbus refined its design, targeting a 15–20% reduction in operating costs over the existing Boeing 747-400. The A3XX design converged on a double-decker layout that provided more passenger volume than a traditional single-deck design.
Airbus did so in line with traditional hub-and-spoke theory, as opposed to the point-to-point theory with the Boeing 777, after conducting an extensive market analysis with over 200 focus groups. Although early marketing of the huge cross-section touted the possibility of duty-free shops, restaurant-like dining, gyms, casinos and beauty parlours on board, the realities of airline economics have kept such dreams grounded.
On 19 December 2000, the supervisory board of newly restructured Airbus voted to launch a €9.5 billion ($10.7 billion) project to build the A3XX, re-designated as A380, with 50 firm orders from six launch customers. The A380 designation was a break from previous Airbus families, which had progressed sequentially from A300 to A340.
It was chosen because the number 8 resembles the double-deck cross section, and is a lucky number in some Asian countries where the aircraft was being marketed. The aircraft configuration was finalised in early 2001, and manufacturing of the first A380 wing-box component started on 23 January 2002. The development cost of the A380 had grown to €11–14 billion when the first aircraft was completed. As of 2016 the list price of an A380 was US $432.6 million.
To start the programme in 2000, the governments of France, Germany and the UK loaned Airbus 3.5 billion euros and refundable advances reached 5.9 billion euros ($7.3 billion). In February 2018, after an Emirates order secured production of the unprofitable programme for ten years, Airbus revised its deal with the three loan-giving governments to save $1.4 billion (17%): restructured terms, to lower the production rate from eight in 2019 to six per year.
For the surface movement of large A380 structural components, a complex route known as the Itinéraire à Grand Gabarit was developed. This involved the construction of a fleet of roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ships and barges, the construction of port facilities and the development of new and modified roads to accommodate oversized road convoys. The front and rear fuselage sections are shipped on one of three RORO ships from Hamburg (Germany) to Saint-Nazaire (France).
Made in Europe
First flight: 2005
Crew: 2 pilots
Capacity: 519 seats
Motor: 4 Engine Alliance GP7000 turbofan
Speed: 903 km/h (561 mph)
Range: 14,800 km (8,000 nmi)
Ceiling: 13,000 m
Weight: 285 t