The Airbus A-380?

Posted on 26. Oct, 2007 by in Featured

When Airbus announced its intent to build the A-380 I made a prediction to a friend. “It will bankrupt Airbus.” In reality, since AB Industries is more of a European social program then a true company, it will no doubt survive. However it will be a disaster to the bottom line IMO; probably why the Brits pulled out a while back.
Some analysts believe that it is a niche’ technology much like the super sonic Concord, thus it will fill a small segment of the market. Even if this were true, I think it spells financial gloom for AB. After investing 20 billion, just to break even Airbus has to sell 420 A-380s; they currently have orders for only 165.
To me a more historically and technologically accurate comparison is the Lockheed Constellation. The “Connie” was heralded as the greatest airliner of the time, big fast luxurious. It represented the pinnacle of the piston powered airliner. The problem was it came on line at the dawn of the jet era. The Concord represented a new technology that was too expensive to operate to generate revenue except in a small niche’ market; the A-380 is not a new technology. It represents an end of the “metal era”, not a new era of super-size.
While the hub-hub verses the hub-destination operational debate continues between Airbus and Boeing, what is not debatable is that the A-380 represents the last metal aircraft designed by either. The 787 and the A-350 are both composite based airframes, a new technological advance. And while the order book 787 verses the A-380 would be anecdotal evidence that the industry has voted with their collective check books. What will have a bigger impact is the technology shift, vice the operational debate.
Certainly there will be issues with the A-380, only 20 airports world wide can handle the weight. Only three in the USA, the largest air travel market in the world. That alone will limit orders. The shear size will cause huge cost and operational problems, gates, customs, of when not if, and you have a future revenue disaster. Imagine your A380 fleet half full or one third full over a period of years with oil at 100 a barrel. Not a pretty picture,
Now imagine Boeing rolling out a composite based double decker 747 (just stretch that distinctive hump), with new more efficient wing and engine technology. An aircraft that can be accommodated by the existing airports, while carrying the same amount of passengers as an A380, due to the weight savings of composites, fly by wire and having to hold less fuel. Not good for future orders of the A-380.
The Aerospace industry is driven by personality and ego more than any other. Boeing a few years back swallowed their pride and admitted the Sonic Cruiser was a mistake. The lack of orders being the overriding factor, perhaps Airbus should have noticed.

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