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Airbus Will End Production Of Massive A380 Jetliner


The largest commercial jumbo jet ever built will soon be flying off into the sunset. Airbus says it will stop making its gigantic A380 plane in 2021. It's a plane so big that it could carry the entire population of a small town. As NPR's David Schaper reports, airlines instead want smaller, long-haul jets.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It's not quite a city in the sky, but those who have flown the Airbus A380 say it's pretty close.

MARISA GARCIA: Oh, it's huge. It's like being on a flying cruise ship really.

SCHAPER: Marisa Garcia is an aviation industry writer and analyst based in Denmark, and she says with two full seating levels, the A380 can be configured to carry up to 800 passengers. The standard layout is for about 550 people, but that still leaves plenty of room for passengers to move around, have a drink at a bar and, in higher class cabins, enjoy other perks rarely found in air travel today.

GARCIA: Some airlines even offer showers in there. Emirates does special lounges. We've seen Etihad put in a whole private apartment in there for two people with a private bathroom. Passengers love it.

SCHAPER: Passengers, yes, but airlines, not so much, because the A380 requires too many passengers to fill it in order to make it cost effective. And it's a really expensive plane - nearly $450 million at list price. And many airports just don't have the runways and gates to accommodate it. That limits it primarily to routes between long-distance hubs. Responding to emailed questions by recording himself on his phone mid-flight today, aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group put it this way.


RICHARD ABOULAFIA: The A380 was doomed because people want to fly directly rather than change planes in a large hub like JFK or Narita.

SCHAPER: When Airbus was developing the A380, many hub airports were at or near capacity and the thinking was the super jumbo jet would allow an airline to move more passengers between hubs with fewer flights. But Aboulafia says business travelers are willing to pay more for direct point-to-point flights, making those routes on smaller jets much more profitable for airlines.


ABOULAFIA: Investing in the A380 was a huge mistake and a hubristic misreading of where the market was going.

SCHAPER: At one point, Airbus projected selling more than 1,200 of the super jumbo jets. But in the past decade, the company has only delivered 234 of them. And Dubai-based Emirates - by far the largest buyer of A380s - recently announced it would slash its most recent order and would instead buy 70 smaller planes. So at a news conference at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, today, CEO Tom Enders acknowledged the inevitable.


TOM ENDERS: We need to be realistic about it, after everything we tried, on the sales front, our engineers with new proposals, et cetera, the response from the response from the market was, to put it mildly, very weak.

SCHAPER: So even though the plane is an aviation engineering marvel, Enders says Airbus will cease production when the few remaining orders are filled.


ENDERS: Because if you have a product that nobody wants anymore or you can sell only below production cost, you have to stop it, as painful as it is. No. This is the right decision right now.

SCHAPER: As many as 3,500 workers may lose their jobs when A380 production ends in two years. But because of such strong demand for its smaller jets, Airbus remains profitable. In fact, on news of the huge jet being cancelled, its stock price soared. David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PILOTE'S "SHAPESHIFTER BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.