The plight currently facing Airbus on its A380 programme is neatly – although perhaps inadvertently – summed up by customer Singapore Airlines (SIA).

Although the carrier loves the aircraft, and is investing $850 million in a complete interior revamp on the double-deckers, it is certain that it does not require additional examples beyond the 19 planned.

“The A380 serves a particular mission and for now we think we have enough to meet the needs that we have,” said Swee Wah Mak, the carrier’s executive vice-president of commercial, speaking as the airline received its latest superjumbo, the first with the new interior, in late December.

Although Airbus chief Tom Enders may call the updated cabin “breathtaking”, SIA cannot make a compelling business case for more of the type, even when its crowded Changi hub is factored in.

With the exception of Emirates, that view seems to hold for the majority of current operators. For example, Malaysia Airlines appears committed to removing its fleet of six A380s from regular service and converting them to enable high-density pilgrimage flights. And while Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce made headlines with his “I’d have to be drunk to order more” quip, far more damaging was his assertion that the double-decker, powered by older-generation engines, is far less efficient than the latest widebody twins.

The most recent data from Flight Fleets Analyzer indicates a backlog of 96 A380s, although a number of those – perhaps as many as 40 – are questionable.

Airbus already plans to reduce output of the double-decker in 2019 to eight aircraft and is reportedly examining the feasibility of taking this lower still, to six per year, if it secures a crucial 36-unit order from Emirates.

A deal with the Middle Eastern carrier is still in play, Airbus insists, but the pair are deadlocked: Emirates wants a guaranteed future for the programme, but without the order, that commitment is hard to make.

Airbus maintains that demand will come for the A380, citing forecast passenger growth in the Asia-Pacific region – from China in particular – which will drive a regional requirement for 650 very large aircraft over the next 20 years.

But the bottom line is the bottom line: most airlines are unconvinced they can regularly fill a high percentage of an A380’s 400-odd seats, while the new management at Airbus may not see a long-term future in an aircraft that is slipping back into unprofitability.

Source: Flight International