The Airbus A380, the World's Largest Passenger Plane, Is Being Killed Off

The mammoth two-level, four-engine airliner will end production in 2021. 

AP Photo/Francois Mori, File

France may be associated with romance, but it's a sad Valentine's Day over in Toulouse. Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, announced today that it is pulling the plug on the A380—the world's largest passenger plane.

The move to terminate production on the four-engine, two-level jetliner came after Emirates, the Dubai-based airline that has been one of the largest buyers of the A380, said it was truncating its outstanding orders for the plane from 53 copies to just 14. Airbus chief executive officer Tom Enders said the Emirates decision, along with the lack of interest from other parties, meant there was no reason to extend production beyond 2021. 

“The response from the market was, to put it frankly, pretty weak,” Airbus chief executive officer Tom Enders said, according to audio from the BBC. "If you have a product that nobody wants anymore, or you can sell only below production cost, you have to stop it, as painful as it is."

Emirates has been one of the largest buyers of the A380, snapping up 109 copies of the $445 million plane out of a total of 234 delivered, according to Aviation Week. Other operators include Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines—though the Australian airline announced earlier this month that it would be cutting its order for eight additional planes, while the Singaporian air carrier decided last year not to keep two of its planes in service.

Still, the sum total of 313 completed and expected sales across the plane's lifetime demonstrates how the massive plane never quite caught on with commercial carriers the way Airbus would have liked. (The company originally hoped to sell around 1,500 copies of what it dubbed the "superjumbo," according to AW.) 

While the A380 was introduced to great fanfare when it first flew in 2005 before going into revenue service two years later, the changing economic of air travel meant airlines placed a greater importance on smaller (but often still quite large) twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350—planes that, generally speaking, are more fuel-efficient, cheaper and easier to repair, and easier to fill to the brim with people, the latter being a key means of generating profits for air carriers. (Similar issues have also led some airlines to remove the iconic Boeing 747 from service, as well as caused Boeing to discuss ending assembly of the hump-backed jumbo jet, though production is currently planned to continue through at least 2022.)

Those differing needs—and the new demands of an increasingly climate change-minded global society—means the world may never again see a passenger plane on the scale of the A380. Designed to carry up to 853 passengers on its twin decks, the 239-foot-long plane had a wingspan of 262 feet, with those wings covering 9,100 square feet of real estate—more than three times the area of the average American new home. Four turbofan engines producing up to a combined 160,420 pounds of thrust enabled the plane, which could weigh up to 575 tons at takeoff, to reach a top speed of Mach 0.89, while 85,472 gallons of fuel capacity enabled the plane to cruise for 8,500 nautical miles—enough to fly from Washington, D.C. to Sydney, Australia without so much as a pit stop.

Goodbye, A380. You were no 747, but damn it, we'll still miss you.