Monday, January 19, 2015

The Airbus A380: A History

By Jay Haapala / Published January 19, 2015

Editor’s note: As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the rollout of the first Airbus A380, on January 18, 2005, this week we will take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Today, we take a look at the history of the A380.

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Airbus reveals the first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

On January 18, 2005, aircraft manufacturing giant Airbus unveiled its newest aircraft: the double-decker jumbo jet A380. The A380 eventually found its way from the design table to the production line to flying for the airlines.

AirwaysNews went back to see what those past 10 years were like. This is the story of an aircraft that was immense in not only its physical size, but the immense impact it had on an industry, the passenger experience and the term jumbo jet.

The Beginning

In 1991, Airbus conducted market demand research on a wide-bodied, double-decker aircraft. Two years later, in 1993, Boeing canceled a similar project.  On May 1, 1996, Airbus created its Large Aircraft Division. That division was sanctioned to develop plans for the Airbus A3XX, which was charged with giving the manufacturer domination in the large commercial jet market, with its planned capacity of around 600 passengers.

A sales and marketing brochure for the A3XX. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A sales and marketing brochure for the A3XX. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

In the initial design process, the manufacturer discussed the possibilities for airlines with the jumbo jet, including bars, restaurants, duty-free shopping and even a bowling alley, according to press reports at the time.

The bar onboard an Emirates A380. Image Courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

The bar onboard an Emirates A380. Image Courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2013

Although a risk for Airbus, plans for the A3XX continued to develop in January 1998 when Noël Forgeard took over as President and CEO. Airbus was in good financial state with 460 firm orders and 13 new customers in 1997, and plans to build the A3XX were under way.

Mindful of potential customers, Airbus consulted 20 leading airlines about what they would want in a new double-decker jumbo jet.  Airbus originally said that the A380 could carry 853 passengers in an all-economy configuration. But the manufacturer’s typical layout is 525 seats in a three-class configuration. For example, launch customer Singapore Airlines has 12 closed first class suites, 60 lie-flat business class seats and 399 economy seats in one configuration of its A380.

Airbus Integration

Using his experience as a former advisor to French President Jacques Chirac, Forgeard came to Airbus with the idea of integrating Airbus with other aviation companies.

A sales brochure for the A380 from 2003. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A sales brochure for the A380 from 2003. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

In 1998 Aerospatiale was privatized and merged with Matra. This lead to meetings of the Airbus partners to discuss further integration. Eventually, the European Aeronautical Defense and Space Company (EADS) would join in the Airbus venture. The U.K.’s BAE Systems would own 20 percent of the restructured Airbus, while EADS would own 80 percent.

The new Airbus company commenced operations in July 2000. On December 19, 2000, the A380, previously known as the A3XX, was launched commercially. The jumbo jet, dubbed “The Flagship of the 21st Century,” launched with 50 firm orders and 42 options from six major operators, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, Qatar Airways and Korean Air.

An A380 on Airbus's final assembly line in Toulouse, France. Image Courtesy of Airbus

An A380 on Airbus’s final assembly line in Toulouse, France. Image Courtesy of Airbus

The project was officially under way to develop and build an aircraft capable of carrying 525 passengers in a three-class configuration. Component manufacturing for the jumbo jet begins in 2002.

In 2004, a year before its first flight, the first A380 engine, from the Engine Alliance GP7000, was delivered to Airbus. The engine is comprised of technology from both the General Electric GE90 and the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. Airlines also had the option of choosing the Rolls-Royce Trent 900. Following a year of development, tests, and regulatory approval, the day finally came.

First Flight and Deliveries

On April 27, 2005, at 10:29 a.m. local, the first Airbus A380 — F-WWOW, – lined up on the runway in Toulouse, France. A crowd of around 30,000 watched as 308 tons of aircraft went hurtling down the runway and took off. Following a maiden flight over the Pyrenees Mountains, the A380 made a low pass over the very airfield it took off from four hours earlier. The jumbo jet landed to a crowd, cheering and applauding, at approximately 2:22 p.m. local time.

In June 2005, Airbus announced that the A380 delivery date to Singapore Airlines would slip by six months, blaming complex wiring in the jumbo jet.  Between July 2006 and October 2006, Airbus announced another four-month delay in the delivery of the A380 after discovering manufacturing teams in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany, using incompatible design software.  And there was an issue when the A380′s electrical harnesses were delivered to be fitted, many of them didn’t connect with the forward and aft fuselage sections, according to the Economist.

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

An A380 sales brochure from 2005. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Finally on October 15, 2007, Singapore Airlines took delivery of the first Airbus A380-800. The aircraft, MSN-003, entered service on October 25, 2007, flying between Singapore and Sydney.


A Singapore Airlines first class suite aboard an A380. Image courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Two months later Singapore Airlines CEO Chew Choon Seng said the aircraft was performing better than the airline and Airbus expected. The A380 was burning 20 percent less fuel than its competitor, the Boeing 747-400.

After Singapore’s began flying the A380, other airlines also took delivery of the aircraft. In August 2008, Emirates began service between New York’s JFK Airport and Dubai. Qantas inaugurated A380 service between Melbourne and Los Angeles in October 2008. Air France joined the A380 operators club in October 2009 and Lufthansa followed in May 2010. The 100th A380 was delivered to Malaysia Airlines on March 14, 2013.

Delivery of Qantas' first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

Delivery of Qantas’ first A380. Image Courtesy of Airbus

But it hasn’t been all smooth air for the A380. On November 4, 2010, Qantas Flight 32 suffered an engine failure of its number two Rolls-Royce Trent 900. Following the incident, cracks were discovered in fittings located inside of the wings. This resulted in an Airworthiness Directive that affected 20 A380s.

Airbus responded by compensating those airlines operating the first 68 A380s for the repair costs and revenue lost during the aircraft’s grounding. The issue can be traced back to stress in the material used for fittings. Airbus switched to a different type of material, thus eliminating the problem in future aircraft delivered.

Love at First Flight

The crack situation didn’t ruin the A380’s popularity with carriers and passengers. In 2014, Etihad Airways underwent a rebranding campaign that included the delivery of its first A380, which features the Residence Suite (as reported on exclusively in AirwaysNews). As of December 31, 2014, Emirates has ordered 140 A380s and has taken delivery of 57. Singapore has 24 orders, one option and 19 deliveries. Qantas has 20 orders, with 14 deliveries and four options.

EXTRA EXCLUSIVE: Etihad’s A380 “The Residence,” Reviewed By First Passenger


Through the A380 marketing campaign “Love at First Flight,” Airbus continues to build on its established relationship with not only the airlines that operate their aircraft, but also the passengers that enjoy their aircraft.


While the Airbus A380 may not replace the Boeing 747 as the Queen of the Skies, the A380 still remains an engineering and aviation marvel. In the 10 years since its rollout, the Airbus A380 continues to amaze, outperform, captivate, and give true meaning to its slogan: “Love at First Flight.”

Click here for an interactive timeline of the Airbus A380.

On Tuesday, Co-editor Benét J. Wilson takes a look at the Airbus A380, by the numbers. On Wednesday Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara looks at the long-term prospects for the jumbo jet. Thursday will feature a flashback to Editor-in-Chief Chris Sloan’s 2008 trip on Singapore Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight. And we’ll end the week on Friday, with a Flashback Friday feature from Contributor Luis Linares on the A380.

Extra: Pictures and Story of the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Inaugural in October, 2007

Extra: Airbus A380 Sales and Marketing Brochures

Extra: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Original Sales and Marketing Brochures

Cover photo courtesy of Airbus

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