Beloved by passengers for its spaciousness and comfort, but disliked by airlines because of its running costs, the Airbus A380 has already entered its sunset years, even though it debuted commercially just 14 years ago.
Its final chapter was brought into sharper focus this week, when Airbus delivered the last ever A380 ever made to its new owners, Emirates, ending 18 years of the aircraft’s production.
The superjumbo was conceived at a time when larger planes carrying hundreds of passengers between hubs were an attractive proposition, but by the time it started flying, a different business model – smaller planes connecting smaller airports – had taken over in the aviation industry.
The biggest airliner ever produced, however, has amassed a following and even though a significant portion of the fleet won’t survive the pandemic, news of the airplane getting back into the air have electrified those who specifically look out for it when making flight reservations.
Now several airlines – including Emirates, British Airways and Singapore – are offering long-haul flights on the superjumbo again.
Whether you plan to catch a flight on an A380 while you still have the chance or not, here’s our pick of the 20 most interesting facts about this unique aircraft.
1. Bigger than ever
As the only full-length double decker passenger aircraft ever built, the A380 is so large that it could, in theory, carry a maximum of 853 passengers if all seats were economy class. However, no airline has ever fitted out an A380 like that: the highest recorded capacity is 615 people in a two-class (economy + business) configuration.
2. Wires for miles
Each A380 contains over 300 miles of electrical cables and wiring, and installing them proved so challenging that some of the initial delays with the production of the aircraft were blamed specifically on the wiring. In 2009, Airbus streamlined operations by speeding up the installation of the brackets that hold up the wiring – there are up to 80,000 in each aircraft.
3. Turbulent air
The size and weight of the superjumbo can cause problems to smaller planes closely following it – a phenomenon known as “wake turbulence.” In 2017, a small private jet flipped in the air when it crossed paths with an A380. Recent guidelines suggest that light aircraft should wait four minutes before taking off or landing on the same runway that was just used by an A380.
4. A serious paint job
It takes 950 gallons of paint to cover the entire 38,000-square-feet surface of an A380. A regular layer of paint adds 1,400 lbs of weight to the plane. The process usually takes about two weeks.
5. No need to pack light
The cargo hold of an A380 can carry up to 3,000 suitcases, and two loading belts – one at the front and one at the back – can be used simultaneously to speed up the process.
6. A true globalist
Each A380 is made of 4 million individual components, produced by 1,500 companies from 30 different countries. They all used to converge via road, air and sea to Toulouse, in the south of France, where the final aircraft was assembled.
7. A chance of showers
A fully stocked bar with onyx countertops on the upper deck is a relatively common sight on the A380. Less so are the fully functional showers fitted into the First Class suites on Emirates and Ethiad A380s, or the full-size double bed that Singapore introduced in its Double Suites.
8. More room than a basketball court
With its full-length double deck, the A380 offers almost 6,000 square feet of usable floor space, about 40% more than the second largest airliner, the Boeing 747-8.
9. Loved by Emirates
By far the largest operator of the A380 is Dubai-based Emirates, with 123 orders, followed by Singapore Airlines with 24. In total, 14 airlines have ordered and flown the A380. When Emirates canceled an order for 39 A380s in early 2019, Airbus decided to cease production of the aircraft altogether, by the end of 2021.
10. You can own a piece of one
While it has only just taken delivery of the last A380 ever made, Emirates has already retired the first one it acquired 14 years ago and handed it over to be recycled and turned into furniture items. Among items listed for pre-order at the Dubai Airshow in November were coffee tables made out of wheels, clocks made from wing fuel panels and the airplane’s entire 24-meter-tall tail. Also up for grabs was the plane’s fancy upper deck bar.
11. The secret compartment
With a cockpit crew of three and up to 21 flight attendants, the A380 has the largest crews of any airliner. The galley area has enough room for five people to work simultaneously, and crew members can rest in a “secret” area found in the third deck (the cargo one at the bottom), complete with bunk beds and a private restroom.
12. Not for everyone
The A380, due to its size, can’t be operated at all airports and many had to undertake modifications to be able to handle the superjumbo. In Munich, special hangar doors needed to be built to accommodate the aircraft’s tail. Airbus says that 140 airports worldwide are compatible with the plane, and over 400 can accept it in case of an emergency landing.
13. The longest flight
Emirates operates the A380’s longest scheduled passenger flight: Dubai to Auckland, 8,800 miles and over 17 hours in the air. In 2019, Qantas flew one of its A380s back to base in Sydney from Dresden, Germany, after refurbishment. The plane was empty and flew for over 18 hours and about 10,000 miles.
14. The shortest flight
Singapore Airlines has announced it will offer the new shortest A380 flight in the world: a quick hop of only 180 miles between Changi Airport in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Previously, Emirates held this record with a flight from Dubai to Muscat, Oman, which clocked in at around 210 miles.
15. The cargo version that never was
When Airbus launched the A380 in December 2000, it offered a cargo version called A380F, designed to compete with the equivalent cargo-only models of the Boeing 747. UPS and FedEx both initially placed orders for the plane, but after its release was delayed they canceled them, leading to the cancellation of the A380F program itself.
16. Flappy wings
During takeoff, the A380’s wings flutter so much that they flex upwards by as much as 13 feet. That’s a lot, but not as much as aircraft with a higher amount of composite materials, such as the Boeing 787, whose wings can flap by as much as 25 feet.
17. Jumbo depreciation
The list price of an Airbus A380 was about $450 million, without factoring in discounts, which are common. The current fleet value, however, has plummeted: one estimate says that a 2005 model is now worth just $77 million, and a like-new A380 built in 2019 just $276 million.
18. Two per wing
The plane’s four engines are both one of its most distinctive factors and a drawback, as they require more fuel than twin-engined jets. They are made by either Rolls-Royce in the UK or Engine Alliance in the United States, and can lift the airplane’s maximum takeoff weight of 650 tonnes to cruising altitude in 15 minutes.
19. No US buyers
One of the main reasons why the A380 was never a commercial success is the fact that not a single US airline ever bought the plane. Major European carriers such as Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa did, but in small numbers. By the time the A380 was available, US carriers had already moved away from jumbo planes and towards more fuel-efficient, twin-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350.
20. A partial comeback
The pandemic hit the aviation industry hard, and the A380 harder. Lufthansa and Air France never put their A380s back into service after they were grounded, deciding to retire their entire fleets instead, while Qatar sent half its fleet to permanent storage. On the flip side, Qantas, British Airways, Emirates, Qatar, Singapore, All Nippon and Korean Air have all announced that they are restarting A380 service.