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Launch of the world’s largest passenger airliner

22/09/2020
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In the early ‘90s, Airbus sought to challenge the dominance on the Boeing 747 in the long haul flight market with a super-sized passenger airliner of their own. But it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they finally flew the first Airbus A380 - the world’s largest passenger airliner.

The Airbus A380 - the largest passenger airliner in the world
(Image via Wikipedia)

Boeing’s 747 had been the dominant jumbo jet since 1970. Airbus wished to counter that with a project of their own, announced in Farnborough in 1990, that would be larger than the 747 and have a 15% lower operating cost. Designs were presented in 1992 and by 1994 the new airliner project had officially been announced as project A3XX. 

The cockpit of an Airbus A380
(Image via Airbus)

Several designs were considered over the following years and several studies - including a joint study with Boeing - were undertaken, reviewed and put aside. By 2000, development costs had reached €9.5 billion ($10.7 billion), but the company had landed on a double-decker design that - in early marketing plans at least - included the possibility of in-flight shops, casinos, restaurant dining and gyms. These, however, would later prove too ambitious for the economic realities of air travel.

One of 4 Rolls Royce engines on the wings of an Airbus A380
(Image via Airbus)

Finally, the first Airbus A380 was unveiled in Toulouse in January 2005 and made its first flight the following April. Though the prototype was a success, production would prove to be a problem, with the complexity of the cabin wiring, the high degree of customisation for each airline and failures of configuration management and change controls causing delays. 

A spacious double-decker interior on the Airbus A380
(Image via Airbus)

It wouldn’t enter commercial service until 2007, when the first A380 - nicknamed Superjumbo - was flown from Singapore to Sydney on the 25th October. Passengers were able to buy seats for the inaugural flight on an online charity auction, paying between $560 and $100,380.

Technical specifications of the Airbus A380
(Image via Airbus)

Since then 242 A380s have been delivered by Airbus, mostly flown under Emirates, Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Qantas branding.

The plane, then, was a success. Thanks to its full length upper level it can carry up to 868 passengers - 40% more than the 747. However, production does come at a significant cost and Airbus have said that they will be ending production of the A380 in 2021, after 14 years.

How does the Airbus A380 compare to the Boeing 747
(Image/data via HowStuffWorks)

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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fircroft, we're counting the world's greatest engineering accomplishments made in the years 1970-2020. Read last week's look back at 2004 and the website that kicked off the social media age.
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Launch of the world’s largest passenger airliner - Time to read 3 min
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