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Analysis

The end of the road for A380

Last Thursday, February 14 , the CEO of Airbus announced the end of production of the A 380 for 2021, resulting in, among other things, a renegotiation of the contract between the constructor and and Emirates. Year-end results for the European giant, published the same day, remain "solid" for 2018. This marks the end of a complicated life for the very high capacity plane, which never truly found its place on the very complicated airline market.

The announcement and reasons for failure

The news came in on Thursday, February 14 via press release: Airbus will cease production of the A380s by 2021. This news reminds us on Valentine's Day that the public's love for a device does not make it a success. The aircraft's production was only possible thanks to the contract between Emirates and the manufacturer, but the Gulf company has just reduced its order from 162 to 123 aircraft, thereby signing the death warrant for construction of this giant of the sky. Representing almost half of all orders, Emirates had long served as a savior or adjudicator for its production. However, the carrier's growth has slowed significantly in recent years: exchange rate problems, geopolitical instability (crisis with Qatar), lower than expected growth in passenger numbers in the Gulf countries, etc. In short: the group could no longer afford to maintain its order, and in the absence of new buyers, the A380  has reached the end of its run. This was did not come as a surprise: on January 31, Airbus  explained in a press release that it had entered into negotiations with Emirates. The CEO of the group, Tom Enders, sums it up well: "The consequence of this decision (by Emirates - editor's note) is that our order book is no longer sufficient to enable us to maintain production of the A380, despite all our sales efforts with other companies in recent years."

Quite simply, the plane was having trouble getting a sale. First of all, because this aircraft, which can carry up to 900 people in its most economical configuration, consumes a lot of Kerosene. A problem that the manufacturer has never really taken on board, for example, by offering a more fuel-efficient version of its aircraft. The long-anticipated A380 NEO has never seen the light of day, and the A380 Plus only offers fuel savings of around 4%. Secondly, since the aircraft is a four-engine aircraft, it was considered riskier, with a higher number of possible failures. The aircraft also required investments and adequate infrastructure at airports. Not to mention that the aircraft was primarily used as a premium product, averaging 500 passengers where theoretically 900 would be possible. In short: too many problems that prevented the plane from finding its market.

However, this does not mean that the aircraft will disappear completely: it will still be flying until at least the mid-2030s, according to Emirates' press release. Moreover, in exchange for cancelling orders for the emblematic aircraft, the company placed a new order for 40 A330-900 and 30 A350-900. These two aircraft can accommodate up to 300 passengers (just under 300 for the A330-900 and around 360 for the big brother to the A350). Other good news for Airbus jobs - especially at the Blagnac site - the manufacturer will continue to provide after-sales service and aircraft repairs/monitoring. Now we shall see how the discussion between the social partners, trade unions and companies will ensure the future of the approximately 3500 employees currently assigned to the A380.

avion de fly emirates

The aircraft market.

In addition to the issues related to Emirates' financial situation, the A380 has in fact encountered many more general aviation problems.

The first, of course, is the issue of fuel costs. This is where  the 4 engines of the A380 are critical: there are 2 too many. Meanwhile, the B777-300 ER, launched at about the same time, allows the transport of 350 people for only two reactors: a little less space than the A380, which averages 500 passengers, but consumes much less kerosene. Especially since the problem of crude oil concerns not only competitiveness and savings in terms of aircraft fuel consumption: the problem has another, broader, macroeconomic dimension.

Looking at the latest "World Energy Outlook" report published by the International Energy Agency (created by the OECD), the conclusion is clear: "The risk of a shrinking supply situation is particularly acute for oil. Over the past three years, the average number of new approved conventional oil production projects is only half the volume required to balance the market until 2025." The arrival of the famous production peak that makes so many people fantasize? If for the moment stocks, OPEC shares, and especially non-conventional sources make it possible to maintain a price around 50 dollars per barrel, the price is likely to rise in the near future. At least while no investments are being made to boost production and keep up with demand, this is what the Energy Agency says in its latest report.

The oil outlook for 2025 with no renewed investment in oil resources (source: International Energy Agency)

évolution production et consommation de pétrole conventionnel sans investissement

And of course, there are environmental issues to be addressed behind energy. Moreover, on February 13, 2019, the Netherlands proposed a tax on CO2 emissions from aircraft at a European Council of Ministers of Economy. According to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), aviation is estimated to be responsible for 5% of the Earth's radiative forcing or roughly 5% of the global warming. This figure is in fact enormous and probably underestimated. It makes it possible to understand the signing of an agreement in 2016 by the member countries of the international civil aviation organisation, in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.

But other problems in the aviation market have also affected the life of the A380. For example: airport congestion has not occurred. Faced with the continuous increase in the number of international arrivals (around 1.2 billion according to the World Tourism Organisation), the question of airport saturation was raised: the A380 was intended to make it possible to keep existing infrastructure while traffic continued to increase. In fact, maintaining the same number of arrival and departure slots, the same number of runways, but increasing passenger volume through the introduction of larger aircraft. The problem: for the time being, it is not the track that has been chosen by the decision-makers. For example, in Tokyo, Narita airport was built to cope with congestion at Haneda airport. And in the same logic, that of the multiplication of infrastructures, the links between hubs, where Airbus could have been very efficient, did not have the expected increase: rather than increase large carrier links between two hubs and then connections with lighter aircraft to destinations, direct routes have developed, in particular with the arrival of Low Cost, medium/long haul, improved fuel tanks and fuel consumption.

And these are not al the issues at hand, but rather a limited sampling of the pitfalls that Airbus's aircraft needed to overcome... before finally failing and getting stuck.

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