Airbus to axe A380 superjumbo as largest buyer reduces order

Ross Greenwood speaks to former Emirate A380 pilot James Nixon after
Europe’s Airbus says it will scrap production of the A380 superjumbo, abandoning its dream of dominating the skies with a cruiseliner.

Ross Greenwood: I want to get to another story that’s happened today and that is Airbus, not only has come out with its profits result that looked okay but it’s also announced that after, what would it be? 12 years since the first commercial flight, not quite 12 years, that it’s going to stop the production of the Airbus A380, the superjumbo. Now I’m certain that many of you have traveled in this aircraft and it really is astonishing. I was on the inaugural flight, the Singapore Airlines Flight that came from, or clearly Singapore to Australia, landed in Sydney the first commercial flight. It was really quite something to go on. I’ve been on that plane many times since but the problem is that new types of aircraft have turned up and particularly super long haul aircraft like the 787 Dreamliner from Boeing have really meant that the ability to try and tackle, in the of course is 555 passengers on one aircraft is not as necessary now as it once was.

Rather than talk to me about these and what are these, let’s go to somebody who knows the aircraft more intimately that is a former Emirates A380 pilot, now retired James Nixon, who’s online right now. Many thanks for your time James.

Interview with: James Nixon, Former, Emirates A380 Pilot

James Nixon: My pleasure Ross and I’ve done many more flights than you on it.

Ross Greenwood: Absolutely, have no doubt about that. Explain to me as a pilot what type of an aircraft was it to fly?

James Nixon: Well it’s a beautiful airplane to fly. I started flying on it on September 2008 and I left it in end of 2016 so I’ve got a lot of hours flying the A380. They’re very clever. Airbus has philosophies that a lot of people don’t get. They decided a long time ago that the people who would fly the A380 are currently flying A320 so they tuned the flight controls to the A320. It’s very, very simple for an Airbus pilot to move from one aircraft to another.

Ross Greenwood: When you’re flying an A380, the largest commercial airliner in the world, do you get a sense of it’s size as the pilot?

James Nixon: Not so much in the air although it’s got a lot of inertia and it’s pretty heavy. It likes going straight but you certainly notice it when you’re taxing around especially in a place like Dubai. When I left we had 92 of them or 93 of them. They got 100, something like 109 of them now. When when you get on the ground it’s a bit of a worry because the wingspan’s 80 meters wide and when you’re passing each other on taxi ways, even though the nosewheel’s on the fizzle line, you still look out the window very carefully.

Ross Greenwood: Because clearly just with that wingspan it is enormous. Given the number of the sheer volume of passengers that this aircraft can take, is it something that’s difficult to get the passengers and the luggage on and off the aircraft? Is that something that potentially is one thing that could hold it back?

James Nixon: Well, I think it scared a lot of people when it first started. I would think of just a long haul airliner that Emirates soon got the handle of turning it around very quickly especially when we started going from Dubai to Sydney to Auckland and doing a quick turnaround in Sydney and on the way back every day. Then they’ve realized that you can use them to Jeddah and places like that in the Middle East, very short fixes up to Kuwait and so the turnarounds very fast. It’s broken down into sections so naturally there’s three catering tracks instead of two and there’s two refueling trucks instead of one and all that sort of thing. The cabin crew look after the standard city, city flyer passengers so there’s enough crew on an Emirates A380. There’s 30 crew on a long haul flight and so you certainly break it down and you can turn it around very quickly.

Ross Greenwood: Well it’s just incredible because it was partly because said, the full deliveries of some of its orders for the A380 and then Emirates itself is going to take a delivery of 14 further A380s over the next two years but effective, the order book was being reduced. They’ve said that they will cease deliveries in 2021 though no doubt the A380 will continue to be in the skies for decades to come. There is no doubt but it’s an interesting thing just to seeing the dynamics of the airline industry these days that these very long haul, smaller planes and they’re really taking precedence over some of those very large flights that have been around the place or large planes that have been around in the past James.

James Nixon: When they were designed, the A380 was designed on a Hub and spoke system when fuel got up to $132 US a barrel. The 787 and the A350 were designed when the fuel went down to $30 a barrel and the philosophy was more flights more often saying you could do a flight from say, St. Louis to London with 130, 200 passengers. But the problem is infrastructure on the ground, getting a third runway at London, getting a third airport in Sydney. Every time they start to initiate one of these increases of infrastructure in big airports, another financial crisis comes along and everyone pulls their heads in for a few years.

The third runway at London, if they don’t get that third runway up, it’s not a good idea having all of these small airplanes because the 787 is a small aircraft. It’s only 236 feet so even to fill an A380, or an A380 that goes to London with quarters is two 787s plus 17 passengers so you’ve got to understand how big the A380 is. When the price of fuel goes up, if they can’t get these extra runways, the hub and spoke spoke system will eventually turn out to be a good thing and everyone’s still hedging their bets. They’re still taking 123 A380s. That’s a lot of aircraft and they’re converting these forward orders to 40 A330 neos and 30 A350s.

Ross Greenwood: And that’s the way in which they’ll do it. Tell you what, I can understand it. James Nixon as I say, former Emirates A380 pilot. Been around the place, knows them inside out of course. Has to as a pilot and Airbus announcing that from 2021 it will stop the production of those aircraft. James, we appreciate your time and insight on the program this evening,

James Nixon: My pleasure. Thanks Ross.

Image source: 2GB

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