It was just about 12 years ago that the first A380, the world's biggest passenger aircraft made by Airbus, entered commercial service, giving Singapore Airlines another opportunity to create a differentiated product with the Singapore Airlines Suites.
The A380, with all the size, is generally a very comfortable aircraft. Much more quiet than all the competing aircraft such as the 777s, in spite of the fact that it had four engines. Many times, I have literally sat on the wing of that powerful aircraft, and haven’t heard anything as we thrust for take-off.
Back in the day, in the year 2000, when the A380 programme was launched, Airbus banked on the fact that traffic would move amongst very congested hubs, such as Dubai and New York, and the slot constraints would require airlines to buy the A380 to transport more people on the same set of wings. In a high-density configuration, the A380 could transport about 800 passengers in one go.
The A380 is a marvel of technology, and it is on my list to fly as many airlines with the A380 as I can. And I have only flown the British Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa versions yet. The double-decker structure of the aircraft gave airlines a lot of space and freedom to design cabin products that could bring more luxury to their A380 experience.
Emirates put showers on its A380s and a lounge at the back of the plane. Qatar Airways put a full-blown bar for its premium passengers, while Etihad created a two-room suite in the Etihad Residence. All of it was nothing but clever utilisation of space but it added to the customer perception, with the A380 looked at as a reinforcement of the airline’s focus on a premium passenger experience.
These A380 experiences became the talking points to differentiate the airline since these became headline experiences in marketing campaigns for the airlines and came with the halo effect. Nevermind that the airline only had 5-10 of these and the workhorse of their fleet was another aircraft such as the A330 or the B777. The A380 still helped to sell tickets.
Unfortunately, Airbus could only sell a shade over 250 of these aircraft to about a dozen airlines globally, a far cry from 1200 that Airbus predicted while launching the aircraft. With better technology and a higher range on the narrowbody aircraft and the arrival of aircrafts such as the 787, passengers did not want to fly through the hubs anymore.
As a result, many other airlines remained unconvinced of the need to buy the Superjumbo, as the plane came to be lovingly called. Emirates, the customer with over half of the A380s in its fleet as well decided against buying more of these, instead of putting its next bet on newer technology twinjets.
So, after years of trying to convince airlines to buy it, in 2021, Airbus will stop building these superjumbos after the final 17 aircraft on its order book are delivered. But that should not worry you, because as a user, you will still be able to fly the A380 well into the 2030s, at least on Emirates. As for me, I still have a list of 6 airlines to pursue the A380 with.
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge ( www.livefromalounge.com .) Ajay flies over 200,000 miles every year, and tweets about The Business of Travel at @LiveFromALounge.