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Airbus A380 reinvents itself as it entered its 10 year old mid-life crisis

Airbus A380 has failed to live up to its hype after 10 years in the skies
A380 has won just 317 orders, less than a third of what Airbus projected for its first 20 years

Bloomberg in Toulouse, France


Airbus wants airlines to re-discover the A380 as a work horse by packing in more seats. Photo: AFP

At the tender age of 10, the Airbus A380 is already entering a mid-life crisis.

The double-decker aircraft has failed to win a single order from any new airline customer for two years now, and senior management was forced to come to the airliner’s defence in December after the planemaker’s parent introduced the possibility of axing the A380 outright. As the mid point of the year approaches, the plane has yet again drawn a blank on deals.

It is a far cry from the jubilation in 2005, when the giant airliner took off for the first time and Airbus said the A380, certified to carry as many as 853 passengers, would push arch-rival Boeing out of the monopoly on jumbo jets it held for decades and herald a new dawn of travel, pairing ultra-luxury with mass transport while alleviating the strain on congested airports.

“It’s true the market hasn’t developed as much as we’d have liked,” Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Bregier said this month. “This plane was probably launched 10 years too early.”

Bregier is now trying to breathe fresh life into the A380 campaign. Airbus has assembled a team of employees from within sales, marketing, engineering and design to lobby existing and future customers of the aircraft – including those who may buy the aircraft second-hand.

The “new organisation will enhance our ability to respond to market trends and customer needs quicker, by developing and deploying complete solutions faster – in order to explore and open up new market segments”, the company said in response to questions.

Airbus wants customers to re-discover the A380 as a work horse, encouraging existing and prospective buyers to use denser configurations, seating 11-abreast instead of 10 in economy, while still exploiting the cabin’s size to keep perks like bars that distinguish the plane.

It has already helped Qantas Airways move in that direction and Singapore Airlines is now refurbishing its 19 A380s to add premium economy seats. Emirates, the A380’s biggest operator with 60 in use and another 80 on order, has some double-deckers flying in a two-class layout for 615 seats, stripping out its first-class berths.

Since 2000, the A380 has won just 317 orders, less than a third of the 1,200 Airbus projected in its first 20 years. Not a single airline company in the United States has ordered it, and only five have been contracted for China, which will be the world’s largest aviation market in 20 years.

The tepid response has haunted Airbus, particularly since the A380 is a hit with the flying public. The ride is smooth and quiet, and perks like bars where business-class passengers can mingle on Emirates planes have created buzz. Etihad Airways has gone as far as fitting a three-room residence into the front of its A380s, complete with a bed and a butler.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Ten years on, giant A380 has failed to live up to hype

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 6:00am


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