The Airbus A380 is a double-deck, wide-body, four-engine airliner manufactured by the European corporation Airbus, a subsidiary of EADS. The largest passenger airliner in the world, the A380 made its maiden flight on 27 April 2005 from Toulouse, France, and made its first commercial flight on 25 October 2007 from Singapore to Sydney with Singapore Airlines. The aircraft was known as the Airbus A3XX during much of its development phase, but the nickname Superjumbo has since become associated with it.
The A380's upper deck extends along the entire length of the fuselage, and its width is equivalent to that of a widebody aircraft. This allows for an A380-800's cabin with 5,146 square feet (478.1 m2) of floor space; 49% more floor space than the current next-largest airliner, the Boeing 747-400 with 3,453 square feet (320.8 m2), and provides seating for 525 people in a typical three-class configuration or up to 853 people in all-economy class configurations.
McDonnell Douglas unsuccessfully offered its smaller, double-deck MD-12 concept for sale. Airbus organised four teams of designers, one from each of its partners (Aérospatiale, Deutsche Aerospace AG, British Aerospace, CASA) to propose new technologies for its future aircraft designs. In January 1993, Boeing and several companies in the Airbus consortium started a joint feasibility study of an aircraft known as the Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT), aiming to form a partnership to share the limited market. Despite the fact that only two airlines had expressed public interest in purchasing such a plane, Airbus was already pursuing its own large plane project. In June 1994, Airbus began developing its own very large airliner, designated the A3XX. Airbus considered several designs, including an odd side-by-side combination of two fuselages from the A340, which was Airbus's largest jet at the time. The A3XX was pitted against the VLCT study and Boeing's own New Large Aircraft successor to the 747. From 1997 to 2000, as the East Asian financial crisis darkened the market outlook, Airbus refined its design, targeting a 15 to 20% reduction in operating costs over the existing Boeing 747-400. The A3XX design converged on a double-decker layout that provided more passenger volume than a traditional single-deck design, in line with traditional hub-and-spoke theory as opposed to the point-to-point theory of the Boeing 777, after conducting an extensive market analysis with over 200 focus groups .
The aircraft's configuration was finalised in early 2001, and manufacturing of the first A380 wing box component started on 23 January 2002.
This involved the construction of a fleet of roll-on/roll-off (RORO) ships and barges, the construction of port facilities and the development of new and modified roads to accommodate oversized road convoys.
In Saint-Nazaire in western France, the ship trades the fuselage sections from Hamburg for larger, assembled sections, some of which include the nose. The ship unloads in Bordeaux.
Five A380s were built for testing and demonstration purposes. The first A380, serial number MSN001 and registration F-WWOW, was unveiled at a ceremony in Toulouse on 18 January 2005. Its maiden flight took place at 8:29 UTC (10:29 a.m. local time) 27 April 2005. This plane, equipped with Trent 900 engines, flew from Toulouse Blagnac International Airport with a flight crew of six headed by chief test pilot Jacques Rosay. After successfully landing three hours and 54 minutes later, Rosay said flying the A380 had been “like handling a bicycle” .
On 1 December 2005 the A380 achieved its maximum design speed of Mach 0.96 (versus normal cruising speed of Mach 0.85), in a shallow dive, completing the opening of the flight envelope. On 10 January 2006 the A380 made its first transatlantic flight to Medellín in Colombia, to test engine performance at a high altitude airport. On 14 February 2006, during the destructive wing strength certification test on MSN5000, the test wing of the A380 failed at 145% of the limit load, short of the required 150% to meet the certification. Airbus announced modifications adding 30 kg to the wing to provide the required strength. Three days later, the A380 received European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval to carry up to 853 passengers.
The maiden flight of the first A380 using GP7200 engines-serial number MSN009 and registration F-WWEA-took place on 25 August 2006. On 4 September 2006, the first full passenger-carrying flight test took place. The aircraft flew from Toulouse with 474 Airbus employees on board, in the first of a series of flights to test passenger facilities and comfort. In November 2006 a further series of route proving flights took place to demonstrate the aircraft's performance for 150 flight hours under typical airline operating conditions. The A380-861 model obtained the type certificate 14 December 2007.
Production and delivery delays
Airbus cited as underlying causes the complexity of the cabin wiring (100,000 wires and 40,300 connectors), its concurrent design and production, the high degree of customisation for each airline, and failures of configuration management and change control. Airbus announced the first delay in June 2005 and notified airlines that deliveries would be delayed by six months. This reduced the total number of planned deliveries by the end of 2009 from about 120 to 90-100. On 13 June 2006, Airbus announced a second delay, with the delivery schedule undergoing an additional shift of six to seven months. Although the first delivery was still planned before the end of 2006, deliveries in 2007 would drop to only 9 aircraft, and deliveries by the end of 2009 would be cut to 70-80 aircraft. The announcement caused a 26% drop in the share price of Airbus's parent, EADS, and led to the departure of EADS CEO Noël Forgeard, Airbus CEO Gustav Humbert, and A380 programme manager Charles Champion. The delay also increased the earnings shortfall projected by Airbus through 2010 to €4.8 billion.
Airbus suspended work on the freighter version, but said it remained on offer, albeit without a service entry date. For the passenger version Airbus negotiated a revised delivery schedule and compensation with the 13 customers, all of which retained their orders with some placing subsequent orders, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, Qatar Airways, and Korean Air.
On 13 May 2008 Airbus announced reduced deliveries for the years 2008 (12) and 2009 (21). After further manufacturing setbacks, Airbus reduced plans to deliver 14 A380s in 2009, down from the previously revised target of 18. In 2010 Airbus delivered 18 from the expected 20 A380s, due to Rolls-Royce engine availability problems. The first aircraft delivered (MSN003, registered 9V-SKA) was handed over to Singapore Airlines on 15 October 2007 and entered into service on 25 October 2007 with an inaugural flight between Singapore and Sydney (flight number SQ380). Two months later, Singapore Airlines CEO Chew Choong Seng said that the A380 was performing better than both the airline and Airbus had anticipated, burning 20% less fuel per passenger than the airline's existing 747-400 fleet. By the end of 2008, 890,000 passengers had flown on 2,200 A380 flights totalling 21,000 hours.
In February 2009 the millionth A380 passenger flying with Singapore Airlines was recorded. Air France received their first A380 on 30 October 2009, arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport. By July 2010 the 31 A380s then in service had flown 156,000 hours with passengers in 17,000 flights, transporting 6,000,000 passengers between 20 international destinations.
This common design approach sacrifices some fuel efficiency on the A380-800 passenger model, but Airbus estimates that the size of the aircraft, coupled with the advances in technology described below, will provide lower operating costs per passenger than the 747-400 and older 747 variants.
Airbus used similar cockpit layout, procedures and handling characteristics to those of other Airbus aircraft, to reduce crew training costs. Accordingly, the A380 features an improved glass cockpit, and fly-by-wire flight controls linked to side-sticks. The improved cockpit displays feature eight 15-by-20 cm (5.9-by-7.9 in) liquid crystal displays, all of which are physically identical and interchangeable; comprising two Primary Flight Displays, two navigation displays, one engine parameter display, one system display and two Multi-Function Displays.
The Trent 900 core is a scaled version of the Trent 500, but incorporates the swept fan technology of the stillborn Trent 8104. Noise reduction was an important requirement in the A380's design, and particularly affects engine design. Both engine types allow the aircraft to achieve QC/2 departure and QC/0.5 arrival noise limits under the Quota Count system set by London Heathrow Airport, which is a key destination for the A380.
On 1 February 2008, a three hour test flight operated between Britain and France, with one of the A380's four engines using a mix of 60% standard jet kerosene and 40% gas to liquids (GTL) fuel supplied by Shell. The aircraft needed no modification to use the GTL fuel, which was designed to be mixed with normal jet fuel.
Carbon-fibre reinforced plastic, glass-fibre reinforced plastic and quartz-fibre reinforced plastic are used extensively in wings, fuselage sections (such as the undercarriage and rear end of fuselage), tail surfaces, and doors. The wings of other commercial airliners are partitioned span-wise into sections. This flowing, continuous cross section optimises aerodynamic efficiency. This aluminium-glass-fibre laminate is lighter and has better corrosion and impact resistance than conventional aluminium alloys used in aviation.
Designed and developed by Airbus, Thales and Diehl Aerospace, the IMA suite is first used on the A380. The data communication networks use Avionics Full-Duplex Switched Ethernet, following the ARINC 664 standard. The A380's network and server system stores data and offers electronic documentation, providing a required equipment list, navigation charts, performance calculations, and an aircraft logbook.
Power-by-wire flight control actuators are used for the first time in civil service to back up the primary hydraulic flight control actuators. The aircraft's 350 bar (35 MPa or 5,000 psi) hydraulic system is an improvement over the typical 210 bar (21 MPa or 3,000 psi) system found in other commercial aircraft since the 1940s. First used in military aircraft, higher pressure hydraulics reduce the size of pipelines, actuators and other components for overall weight reduction. Pipelines are typically made from titanium and the system features both fuel and air-cooled heat exchangers. The hydraulics system architecture also differs significantly from other airliners. Self-contained electrically-powered hydraulic power packs serve as backups for the primary systems, instead of a secondary hydraulic system, saving weight and reducing maintenance.
The A380 features a bulbless illumination system. The cabin lighting features programmable multi-spectral LEDs capable of creating a cabin ambience simulating daylight, night, or levels in between. The A380 was initially planned without thrust reversers, as Airbus designed the aircraft with ample braking capacity to not require their use. However Airbus elected to fit the two inboard engines with thrust reversers in a late stage of development.
Business class on the first Singapore Airlines A380
Economy Class on an Emirates Airbus A380
The A380 can also accommodate up to 11-abreast configurations, and its maximum certified carrying capacity is 853 passengers in an all-economy-class layout. According to Airbus, a typical three-class layout on the A380 accommodates 525 passengers, with 10 first, 76 business, and 439 economy class seats. Planned and announced configurations go from 407 passengers, to be used by Korean Air, up to 840 passengers, to be used by Air Austral.
The A380's full-length upper and lower decks are connected by two stairways, fore and aft, wide enough to accommodate two passengers side-by-side; this cabin arrangement allows multiple seat configurations. Some operators configured their aircraft for three-class service and developed special amenities for a number of passengers paying for first class or business class tickets, such as spacious private cabins with separate beds, lounges, and fully reclining seats. Airbus's initial publicity stressed the comfort and space of the A380's cabin, anticipating installations such as relaxation areas, bars, duty-free shops, and beauty salons.
On its A380s, Air France has installed an electronic art gallery exclusively for first class and business class passengers. Emirates's fourteen first-class private suites have shared access to two "shower spas".It has been suggested that the significantly high levels of customisation of the planes has slowed down production speeds and increased costs. On Qantas' A380s there are 6 self serve snack bars (4 on the lower deck for First Class and economy, 2 on the upper deck for Business and premium economy) and there is an on-board lounge for First and Business class passengers at the front of the upper deck. Virgin Atlantic Airways already offers a bar as part of its "Upper Class" service on its A340 and 747 aircraft, and has announced plans to include casinos, double beds, and gymnasiums on its A380s.
The A380's 20-wheel main landing gear
In the 1990s, aircraft manufacturers were planning to introduce larger planes than the Boeing 747. Airbus measured pavement loads using a 540-tonne (595 short tons) ballasted test rig, designed to replicate the landing gear of the A380. The A380 requires service vehicles with lifts capable of reaching the upper deck, as well as tractors capable of handling the A380's maximum ramp weight. The A380 test aircraft have participated in a campaign of airport compatibility testing to verify the modifications already made at several large airports, visiting a number of airports around the world.
Takeoff and landing separation
In September 2006, the working group presented its first conclusions to the ICAO.
Replacing a blanket 10 nautical miles (19 km) separation for aircraft trailing an A380 during approach, the new distances were 6 nmi (11 km), 8 nmi (15 km) and 10 nmi (19 km) respectively for non-A380 "Heavy", "Medium", and "Light" ICAO aircraft categories. These compared with the 4 nmi (7.4 km), 5 nmi (9.3 km) and 6 nmi (11 km) spacing applicable to other "Heavy" aircraft. On departure behind an A380, non-A380 "Heavy" aircraft are required to wait two minutes, and "Medium"/"Light" aircraft three minutes for time based operations. The ICAO also recommends that pilots append the term "Super" to the aircraft's callsign when initiating communication with air traffic control, in order to distinguish the A380 from "Heavy" aircraft.
In August 2008, the ICAO issued revised approach separations of 4 nmi (7.4 km) for Super (another A380), 6 nmi (11 km) for Heavy, 7 nmi (13 km) for medium/small, and 8 nmi (15 km) for light.
Emirates, the largest A380 customer, has ordered a higher weight A380-800 variant.
From 2013, Airbus will offer, as an option, improved maximum take-off weight, thus providing a better payload/range performance. The increases are made possible by optimising the fly-by-wire control laws to reduce flight loads. Vietnam Airlines has shown interest in the higher-weight variant.
This version would have a seating capacity of 650 passengers in standard configuration, and approximately 900 passengers in economy-only configuration. In May 2010, Airbus announced that A380-900 development was postponed, until production of the A380-800 has stabilised. Airlines that have expressed interest in the model include Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, Kingfisher Airlines, as well as the leasing company ILFC.
Airbus originally accepted orders for the freighter version, offering the second largest payload capacity of any cargo aircraft, exceeded only by the Antonov An-225.
Prototype at the 2005 Paris Air Show
According to Lawrence, parallel to the design of the A380, Airbus conducted the most extensive and thorough market analysis of commercial aviation ever undertaken, justifying its VLA (very large aircraft, those with more than 400 seats) plans, while according to Aboulafia, the rise of mid-size aircraft and market fragmentation reduced VLAs to niche market status, making such plans unjustified. In 2007, Airbus estimated a demand for 1,283 passenger planes in the VLA category for the next 20 years if airport congestion remains at the current level. Airbus also estimates a demand for 415 freighters in the category 120-tonne plus.
Orders and deliveries
Eighteen customers have ordered the A380, including an order from aircraft lessor ILFC and one VIP order by Airbus Executive and Private Aviation. The biggest customer is Emirates, which in June 2010 increased its order by 32 aircraft to 90 total, or nearly 40% of all A380 orders at the time. After assembly, the aircraft are flown to Hamburg Finkenwerder Airport (XFW) to be furnished and painted. Airbus sized the production facilities and supply chain for a production rate of four A380s per month.