Just nine years after Singapore Airlines launched the first passenger service of the world’s biggest airliner, the future of the Airbus A380 looks shrouded in uncertainty.
The launch airline has decided not to renew the lease on its first “Superjumbo” when it expires next year. The plane made its maiden passenger flight from Singapore to Sydney in October 2007.
Polis Polycarpou, aviation marketing strategist for DVB Bank, said of Singapore Airlines’ decision: “I’m not that surprised to see them return these ‘first off the line’ examples of the Superjumbo.
“The airline industry has really bought into to the new technology delivered by the A350 and Boeing 787, which have impressive range capabilities and are able to bypass the traditional hubs and operate at lower capacities with improved profit margins.
“They are real game changers in the commercial airline world.”
Singapore has five more A380s on order, which are due to be delivered from next year.
It is not unusual for the first few production aircraft of a new model to be regarded with circumspection. Often they are heavier than later aircraft, and may suffer teething problems.
An expert in aircraft values said: “They are essentially, in the nicest sense of the word, virtually ‘R&D’ aircraft, with the manurfacturers battling to smooth out the initial kinks of their new kit and improve the latter examples coming off the line.”
Airbus has expressed confidence in the A380 programme, saying: “Traffic growth is leading to larger aircraft which have grown by over 40 percent since the 1980s as airlines select larger aircraft or up-size existing backlogs.
“Larger aircraft like the A380 combined with higher load factors make the most efficient use of limited airport slots and contribute to rising passenger numbers as confirmed by London’s Heathrow Airport.
The jet, which carries more than 600 people in some configurations, has proved very popular with passengers. But with only 200 built, the “Superjumbo” has failed to meet the manufacturer’s sales expectations.
When the entry into service was delayed, a number of airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, cancelled orders.
Another concern is that the value of secondhand A380s is uncertain.
Malcolm Ginsberg, editor-in-chief of Business Travel News, said: “The problem with the Superjumbo is its sheer size. Smaller carriers used to take surplus aircraft at giveaway prices. But the A380 is hard to fill, complex to operate, and not suitable for many airports.”
But the aviation consultant, John Strickland, was more optimistic: “I'm sure that there will be a market for the high capacity and long range which the A380 offers. BA has already indicated interest in potentially acquiring secondhand aircraft in addition to the new ones which it operates.”
British Airways is the only UK airline with the A380. It has 12 in the fleet, deployed on routes from Heathrow such as Miami and Hong Kong.
Emirates is by far the largest customer for the A380, with nearly half of the total production. Next month, it will deploy the aircraft on the world’s longest air route, a flight of nearly 9,000 miles from Dubai to Auckland.
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