A lot of these facts and figures have been floating around for a while but Jad Mouawad writing in the New York Times pulls them together into a compelling analysis of not just the A380s woes but the VLJ market in general.
The article tracks the A380's journey from the original pitch - "More and more passengers meant more flights and increasingly congested tarmacs. Airbus figured that the future of air travel belonged to big planes flying between major hubs," through to the struggles the airliner has had finding buyers in key markets:
"Not a single buyer has been found in the United States, South America, Africa or India. Only one airline in China has ordered it, and its only customer in Japan has canceled."
It's starting to seem like the A380 is the solution to a problem no one really had, and at a development cost of US$25 billion, Airbus will be lucky if they even break even on the project. Further to that, airports are reluctant to invest in the substantial modifications needed to accommodate the A380 and its 6000sqft of passenger space, twice that of the 747.
The exception to the market trend is Emirates who have banked heavily on the A380 with 150 of the type ordered to date. The A380 is perfectly suited to Emirates' hub-centric strategy and, as CEO Tim Clark points out, it is an idea platform for the ultra-luxurious inflight product that Emirates have differentiated themselves with.
"It was Mr. Clark who came up with the idea to install two showers for first-class passengers. Airbus engineers thought the idea was crazy because it would require more fuel to fly the water for the showers. But he dismissed their objections. The showers would immediately distinguish the plane from anything else in the air."
But even Emirates have admitted, as we reported here just a few days ago, that the lifespan of the A380 is limited (EK only plan to use each A380 for 12 years before retiring it) and the secondary market for the aircraft is unclear especially given the lack of cargo conversion interest. "With weak sales and limited interest today, aviation experts say the plane’s resale value could potentially depress new A380 prices even further."
Of course only time will tell what the future holds for the A380 but with Boeing clearly moving their strategy to ultra-efficient twin engine aircraft, it seems clear that the days of the VLJ are indeed numbered.