A380 - The disgraced Airbus super-aircraft


If a relative of Concorde had been disgraced by flying too fast, the A380 was also suffocated in its greatest strength: too loud.

Since 1988, Airbus has been working on a new super-large aircraft, codenamed A3xx - later to become the A380, to compete with the Boeing 747-400. But driven by the early success of the A330 and A340, Airbus soon made a mistake with its development direction. A330 and A340 are two aircraft lines derived from an original design, so there is a similarity between many parts from electronic systems, body frames to wings. Airbus wants to keep this line of sight on the A3xx, as converting from the old foundation will be more cost-effective than developing a brand-new aircraft.

To create an unprecedented large passenger compartment and in the spirit of "copy-paste", engineers have used all professional measures to draft a draft for the A3xx. Initially, they assembled two A340 body frames into one. Not satisfied, they stacked an A320 on an A340 to create a two-tier configuration. In the end, the firm decided to combine the two ideas.


The original A3xx was created by two A340 hulls that made the passenger compartment too large, hindering the exit process. Photo: Airbus.
‘The velvet grenade 'from Boeing

Pressure on Airbus gradually increased when from the United States, Boeing also gradually eyes on the oversized aircraft segment. The 747-400, which was already very large with 416 seats, was smaller and smaller compared to what Boeing customers requested. United Airlines has said it needs a new aircraft to accommodate 650 passengers. Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Thai Airways also closely followed the project.

However, Boeing's strategy and situation are in conflict with each other. When getting goodwill to order a super large jet, the airline has two options: to improve the 747-400 or build a completely new aircraft but it will be much more expensive. Unable to upgrade the 747 to ensure the range, Boeing was forced to work out Plan B. But the trouble is that its factory specializing in assembling wide-body aircraft at Everett is already running at full capacity, so it is unable to afford another project. brand new.

In a very mysterious position, Boeing opened the escape route in an unbelievable way: cooperating with Airbus. The most special thing about this blockbuster handshake is that Boeing has taken advantage of internal loopholes to make a spectacular profit.


The A380 power cable developed by France did not fit into the body frame made in Germany. The incident caused a loss of 5 billion euros and caused the project to be delayed for 6 months. Photo: Airbus.
In the early 1990s, Airbus had a complicated corporate structure as the corporation was a joint venture of independent subsidiaries from France, Great Britain, Spain, and Germany. Airbus' role is to represent the group, responsible for taking part in and selling the aircraft, and not as a purely manufacturer. As a competitor, working directly with the "baby" Airbus is not a welcome policy by Boeing. So in early 1993, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with all key companies of the Airbus joint venture except ... Airbus.

With the agreement, Boeing and its partners can both share the huge research costs of a new aircraft. Previously, Boeing analyzed the consequences of the Gulf War and said that the market would not have enough demand for two lines of oversized aircraft. If only producing one type, then standing on the same line with Airbus is not a bad plan.

Next, the relationship with DASA (Airbus' German branch) will smoothen the certification process in Europe for the upcoming 777 model to be put into operation.

Finally, having penetrated inside Airbus, Boeing has no shortage of "suggestions" to indirectly slow the progress of the A3xx project. That the more delayed the A3xx, the more Boeing kept the title of world's largest aircraft for its 747 treasure.

Typically it's time to talk about the steering system. While Airbus uses a joystick, Boeing uses a rudder, so the idea of ​​integrating both platforms has been proposed: in a two-person cockpit, one pilot will use the joystick, the other uses the rudder. The parties have to spend time researching, testing and evaluating, but come to the conclusion that this option is not feasible, although Boeing is still enthusiastic about consulting ...


Airbus cockpit (pictured above) and Boeing. Photo: Planespotter.
But things gradually turned badly when the US government opposed this alliance. Ambition is cooled down, the American company advises not to produce super large aircraft, but to target the medium-sized aircraft segment for long-haul flight. Eventually Boeing decided to withdraw from the group.

This is a reluctance, not a conspiracy that had been prepared in the first place to mess with Airbus internals, but the decision to cooperate was a great defensive counterattack for Boeing at the same time the company removed the barriers. Large resistance without consuming much internal force.

Island from the ground to the sky

In 1997, Airbus restructured its business with its member companies to become the unified bloc it is today and continued to research the A380 itself. By 2005, the airline had succeeded in literally creating a plane.


No commercial aircraft is larger than the A380. Photo: Sam Chui.
Below ground, the long wingspan and great weight make airports very afraid of the A380. They had to make the runway longer, paved thicker, renovate a larger terminal, and install a two-story air bridge. John F. Kennedy Airport used to spend up to 175 million dollars to upgrade some of these items. Although since the design, Airbus has actively done "ideological work" first with potential destinations, after all, only 16 airports in the US qualified for the A380, compared with 32 airports of the 747. So the A380 It has limited range of activities, despite its very large range.

When going to the sky, with its bulky body, the A380 creates a huge swirling wind every time it takes off, more than enough to make the smaller aircraft shake strongly or even turn upside down if it flies over. In the past, a 747 had caused disaster when an A300 broke its tail in midair because it was too maneuverable to try to escape the turbulent airflow of the Boeing. If they were lined up after the A380, the other planes had to wait longer for the turbulence to dissipate before they could take off. During peak hours, this will disturb the airport's operational efficiency.

There's only one place the A380 doesn't hurt anyone, and that's the freight segment. Although it was too large, its inadequate design prevented it from becoming an elite horse. If the parcel with heavy loads will damage the second floor, the first floor cannot open the nose, so it is not possible to bring large goods into the compartment.

Last season, an A380 was removed from the seats to enlist the transportation of medical equipment. But carrying masks is a capacity that does not admire any courier, very different from carrying armored vehicles or whales like the 747F once did.


Airbus does not install the nose door like the 747F because it thinks the design is complicated and expensive. Photo: Jetphotos.
After researching the A380 cargo model and achieving zero sales, 242 aircrafts were sold to passenger airlines, making Airbus a solid statement: investing in the A380 is the easiest way to go bankrupt. !

Summer place lasts 12 months

In the early 1990s, Airbus predicted that the major airports would soon be overloaded, resulting in a lack of flight capacity. Instead of having to operate two flights with 250 seats per flight, the airline believes it would be better to let the A380 carry 500 passengers at one time to save one flight. When the A380 came into battle in 2007, it was true that the key airports were getting more and more overcrowded, but the market changed with the proliferation of secondary airports.

For example, Lufthansa chose the A380 to fly to Tokyo Narita - Asia's major hub. Due to congestion, it is very difficult to get a takeoff seat at Narita. By 2010, Haneda Airport, only 60 km away, was expanded and the supply of flights to the Tokyo gateway became abundant. Lufthansa heavy burden.

But due to the large capacity, ranging from 480 to 550 seats, covering the seats is the main challenge. The airline has two groups of tourists: tourism and work. With the dense seats, the A380's vitality depends on the first group. However, the characteristic of the tourism industry is uneven demand. 90% of the major airlines' tourists depart to places in the northern hemisphere during the summer. This time, many stages like London-Los Angeles, Bangkok-Rome or New York-Munich, ... are easily sold out.

But nowhere has a summer lasting 12 months. So for the rest of the year, the airlines are messed up with empty seats.

Even in a few key stages, the A380 does not maintain a steady "unbeaten" circuit. For example, the London-Los Angeles journey is always full of customers when leaving London, but the afternoon from Los Angeles is another story. This is the reason why no US airline bought the A380 and chose the Boeing 777.

Recently, this has been absorbed by Qantas when studying the economics of the A380 compared to the 777-300ER on the Sydney-Los Angeles route. Qantas does not own the 777, but assuming they use it instead of the A380 to fly to Los Angeles, even with 30% more seats, the cost of operating the Airbus model is 60% higher. Qantas 'A380 has 484 seats, so filling this crowded passenger compartment is much harder than about 340 seats in the 777. So that 30% is not really the Airbus' advantage.


The first A380, though not damaged, was scrapped for spare parts at the age of 12, while the average shelf life of an aircraft was 20-25 years. Photo: Pilot Magazine.
American's old advice to Boeing came true. The model of direct flight between secondary airports is taking the throne. The strategy of bringing passengers back to major transit airports and then connecting to destinations was outdated. The presence of many advanced aircraft makes few people want to fly around.

Today, the 787 and A350 have a reasonable capacity of 300 seats, using only two engines, so they are fuel efficient but have a range of up to 15,000km or more. This range is equivalent to the A380 and is sufficient to fly straight between almost every pair of airports in the world without requiring an upgrade of facilities. If fewer passengers connect, the more fragile the A380 destiny is.

But there is one exception. One company that takes advantage of the most stable A380 power with a business model exactly as Airbus expected, is Emirates.

Air France and Emirates

With the highest retail price in the world: $ 445 million, the A380 is a fortune. But airplanes are a very special item and the customers never buy the right price. The main reason is that it may take 5-7 years from signing the contract to delivery, so it will be affected by inflation. The order size, squadron configuration, and sale hunting trick of each brand are different, so it is not possible to sell the same price.

Therefore, manufacturers always push the proposed prices up very high and then offer flexible discounts with each customer. It is not officially disclosed, but the price of the aircraft is usually 40-60% lower than the list price.

Price is one of the decisive factors for success or failure that Air France and Emirates are representatives of these two extremes. Like the majority of the 14 carriers that use the A380, Air France places very small orders. With a fleet of only 9 aircraft, the cost per A380 of Air France will be higher than Emirates, which buys 123 units in bulk. In addition, Emirates also owns a separate training and maintenance complex, making costs even easier.

Last May, Air France became the first airline to reject the entire A380 system. Although the Covid-19 hastened the progress of this plan, Air France has long had problems with the super-heavy aircraft.

The first reason is also most common with all A380 operators: the plane is too big to sell out.

Second, when the business cabin is supposed to be a rich source of revenue, Air France is not exploiting effectively when applying the 2-2-2 seat plan without staggering. That way, the window seat will not have a private entrance. This inconvenience is difficult to accept for business guests. Emirates A380 or many Asian firms only install 1-2-1 configurations, although less than two seats in a row, every position has privacy.


Business cabins on the A380s for Air France and Emirates. Photo: planespotter.

For Emirates, the A380's success is due to the Dubai headquarters being blessed with a favorable location. Dubai is like the belly of an hourglass with European and Asian ends, so there is a very bustling transit flow. Due to its wide network, the A380 easily collects passengers from major transit airports such as London Heathrow, or Amsterdam Schiphol ... to Dubai, then passengers onto 777 flights to their final destination. This is the most ideal model for the A380 to exert power.

Another hidden advantage is that the UAE has a large oil source, so Emirates receives preferential fuel prices from the government. Many competitors have accused Emirates of unfair competition and ironic it "uses free gasoline".

The destruction of four-engine aircraft and the non-stop battle

Before the end of the A380 program in 2019 due to low sales, Airbus was once again trapped by Boeing with a new 747 model named 747-8i. At the beginning of the 21st century, Boeing knew that the 8i would be very picky, but decided to assemble it to put pressure on Airbus to invest in the A380. The European manufacturer thereby neglected defense, did not upgrade the A330 until 2014, causing it to be killed by the 777 - the aircraft that destroyed the A340 before.

After settlement, the 747-8i cost Boeing 5 billion dollars. Although it did not earn any profit, the company won with 777 while Airbus poured $ 28 billion into the A380 and still had nothing. This is again a bold strategic decision of Boeing sacrificing decoy as an out-of-date aircraft to create a future for trendy products. If adding "velvet grenade", throughout the A380 project, Airbus lost two goals to Boeing in the end.


Lufthansa's A380 and 747-8i. Photo: planespotter.
Of course, Airbus also has many victories on other fronts against its American rival. The A321XLR launched in 2019 was so popular that Boeing had to redesign the 797 project to deal with it, or it might have to be canceled because the Airbus was too powerful. The competitive spirit is always full, so both of them often dedicate spectacular double performances in the marketplace. As when Boeing promoted the 777X with its unique folding wing design, Airbus came to Vietnam to offer the A350-1000 to a major domestic airline and left a kind appointment:

‘While the 777X is proving the safety of the bleak wing to lawmakers. If you want to close the application, the A350 will not let you miss even one call! '



NEW TECHNOLOGY ELECTRONIC REPORT
Responsible agency: Union of Science and High-Tech Production and Telecommunications (HTI) - Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology
Editor in chief: Vo Tran
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