Airbus A380: why did it lose the war against Boeing?

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The A380 was, for many, the plane of the future, but it did not respond to market pressures and now the production is going to be over

Airbus A380: why did it lose the war against Boeing?

The Airbus A380 generated a lot of fuss when it was launched on the market, it was the largest passenger plane in the world, with a maximum capacity of 868 passengers, distributed across its two floors.

Leer en español: El Airbus A380: ¿por qué perdió la guerra contra Boeing?

In its first year, everything seemed fine, the airlines were excited to have such an innovative aircraft in their fleets and hoped to profit from their greater capacity, which would make each flight more profitable. The plane made its debut with Singapore Airlines, who ordered 24 in 2007, and it received its biggest push through the Emirates airline, which ordered 162, of which they have received only 109.

In February of this year, however, the A380 was discontinued by Airbus and will stop being manufactured in 2021, a year for which they will have to fulfill as many of their remaining orders as possible. What factors contributed to the death of this innovative airplane?

Strong competition

The main competition of Airbus, the American firm Boeing, did not remain idle and was launched to compete with the A380 in the market of boats for long flights with a completely different machine, the 787 Dreamliner.

The 787 Dreamliner ended up commercially destroying the A380. While the latter received 313 orders throughout his life, the 787 received more than 1,400. Why?

While the 787 offers less than half the passenger capacity of the A380, it offers advantages in other fields, particularly that of fuel efficiency. Due to its lightweight fuselage and state-of-the-art engines courtesy of General Electric and Rolls Royce, the 787 ended up being 20 to 25% more efficient than the aircraft it replaced.

This, added to CO2 emissions that are up to 30% lower and noise pollution up to 60% lower according to Enviro.Aero, which made the 787 Dreamliner another very attractive option for airlines.

Fuel efficiency in aviation is measured using miles per gallon per seat (mpg/seat), that means the miles a gallon of fuel, divided by the number of available seats. This is taken into account that efficiency alone is not worth anything if a considerable amount of passengers is not transported.

While the 787 offered an excellent efficiency of 102 mpg/seat, the Airbus A380 offered just 74 mpg/seat according to Wendover Productions.

In addition, although the Airbus A380 offered a greater range of flight, 15,200 kilometers according to the Aerospace Technology portal against the 14,800 of the 787, the efficiency of the Boeing was incomparable among aircraft of similar rank, and ended up being able to do the same routes at a much lower cost for the airlines.

Also read: Do you know what you pay for when you buy a plane ticket?

The wrong business model

The two aircraft offered different advantages, efficiency from Boeing and capacity from Airbus. But the dynamics of the commercial aviation market ended up favoring efficiency.

On the one hand, the rise in fuel prices caused airlines to demand efficiency in order to provide tickets at competitive prices, but on the other hand, the A380 was betting on a completely different business model.

The A380 was designed to serve a model known as hub and spoke, which consists of operating long flights only between hubs (or major airports), so if someone wanted to travel from a smaller city like Tennessee to a transatlantic destination such as London, it would fly first from Tennessee to a hub (such as New York or Chicago) in a small plane and then from the hub to London in a larger one.

The A380 fitted in this last role perfectly, since it could take care of the long routes with greater capacity of passengers.

While this makes sense, the market did not move in this direction. The model that was popularized instead, with the help of planes like the 787 Dreamliner and airlines like United Airlines, was one known as the point to point .

Through a highly efficient aircraft with an excellent range like the 787, airlines saw it possible to connect small airports directly with large ones. Thus, according to the previous example, a direct route between Tennessee and London operated by a 787 would be created, which would reduce costs in other fronts, such as airport charges, support personnel on land and fuel, some of the most representative sources of expenditure in the industry.

The A380, due to its large size, could only operate from and to large and adapted airports, of which there were few, while the 787 could make use of the current infrastructure. These large airports charge higher rates to airlines per flight that takes off, which contributed to increase the cost of operating the A380 beyond the savings it provided in terms of capacity.


LatinAmerican Post | Pedro Bernal

Translated from "El Airbus A380: ¿por qué perdió la guerra contra Boeing?"

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