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4/27/2005: Maiden Flight of the Airbus A380

DALLAS – Today, in 2005, the Superjumbo Airbus A380 made its maiden flight after three years of development and testing.

The behemoth double-decker came with record-breaking seating capacity, wingspan, and height, and, as the Super Jumbo moniker tells, it is the largest commercial airliner flying to date. The Airbus A380 was conceived as a direct competitor to the Boeing 747, with only its 72.72 m height less than that of the Boeing 747, which measures 76.3 m.

And so, the rivalry between the A380 and the 747 began, persisting in both planes’ histories. The Airbus A380 made its commercial debut on October 25, 2007, after extensive testing and several improvements to the aircraft’s structure.

The first deliveries of the A380 began in 2007 to Singapore Airlines (SQ), and the aircraft had its prime years between 2012 and 2014. As the type’s first customer, SQ first operated the Super Jumbo on Flight SQ380 from Singapore to Sydney.

Airbus plane factory in Toulouse, France. Photo: Nicolas Halftermeyer, CC BY-SA 4.0

Development and Testing

As Airbus introduced the hub-to-hub concept, it envisaged the construction of specific satellites for the transit of the A380; specifically, with terminals dedicated only to type, and most importantly, with four fingers (jet bridges).

In truth, Airbus developed the A380 to go toe-to-toe with the Boeing 747, which had dominated the ultra-high-capacity aircraft market for a good while. The A3XX program was formally accepted and renamed the A380 by Airbus’ board of directors in 2000. Six airlines had already placed orders for the new aircraft, and Airbus had already received 50 orders.

The concept was completed by 2001, and development began the next year. Logistically, the Super Jumbo production was one of a kind since sections had to be transported by air, sea, and land from Germany, Spain, and the UK.

Airbus constructed five A380s to test the type. The first A380 out of Airbus’ Toulouse factory left with registration F-WWOW.

Airbus A380-861. Photo: Oleg V. Belyakov, AirTeamImages, CC BY-SA 3.0, GFDL 1.2

Maiden Flight of the A380

The A380’s first flight drew a large number of aviation journalists, as all eyes were anticipating the arrival of the newest Airbus jet, which was set to redefine the passenger experience on a plane.

The type’s maiden flight took off today in 2005 at 10:29 am local time with six passengers on board. Claude Lelaie and Jacques Rosay, the two co-captains, piloted the double-deck A380. Also on board were Airbus engineer Fernando Alonso, Jacky Joyce, Manfred Birnfeld, and Gérard Desbois.

During the flight, every item on the primary flight test objectives list was checked off by the Airbus A380. After 3 hr and 54 min, the flight landed at Toulouse’s Blagnac International Airport (TLS).

Of the A380’s performance, Lelaie commented that, as was evident during the initial ground checks, the A380 performed as well as any other aircraft on the ground. For his part, Rosay echoed Claude’s remarks, saying, “Within the first minutes of the flight, we were struck by the aircraft’s ease of handling.”

Although the test program was carried out smoothly and efficiently, it still threw a few curb balls that were not always very pleasant for the crew. “It’s the very nature of testing!” said one pilot.

“Sometimes things don’t go as planned, even on the A380. During the first flight, the landing gear failed to lock. We had to adapt and switch to plan B. During another flight, the temperature dropped to zero degrees in the cabin, enough to cool the engineers who had forgotten their little woolen jackets,” Lelaie recalls in an Airbus release commemorating the maiden flight.

The Last A380

Emirates (EK), the largest Airbus A380-800 operator in the world, took delivery of its 117th A380 in mid-December, 2020. The aircraft left the Hamburgo Finkenwerder plant on December 11, with its final destination, Dubai International Airport (DXB). There would be more to come.

For its part, British Airways (BA) CEO Sean Doyle said in 2021 that BA A380s would return to long-haul flying for the airline. At the time, 12 BA Airbus A380s were grounded due in part to the pandemic.

In a March 14, 2021 interview with the Independent, Doyle asserted that the type was in BA’s plans “for the future rebuilding of the airline… Exactly when we will put the A380 back into service is something that we’re not clear on,” he conceded to the UK news outlet.

Before its superjumbo production ceased in 2021, Airbus only had six more A380s to deliver. The 118th would go to EK as a special version with a new onboard premium economy product.

Airbus A380-841, registration 9V-SKQ, left Alice Springs on February 22, 2021, bound for Singapore. At the time, SQ wanted to have all A380s include new top-quality first-class suites and business-class seats as the carrier headed back to the skies amid the ongoing pandemic.

The 251st A380 to be delivered—the 123rd A380 delivered to EK—marked the end of the superjumbo-building era at Airbus.

Etihad A380 returns to New York JFK Airport. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways

Legacy of the A380

The A380 is a modern symbol of aerospace engineering, one that has carried over 190 million passengers on over 500,000 revenue flights. This included, at one time, over 300 commercial flights a day that took off or landed every two minutes all over the world.

The Airbus A380 gave the aviation industry a new level of luxury, allowing 15 airlines to convert an aircraft into a flying hotel, a spa, or a cocktail lounge, as SQ and Emirates (EK) did, the latter its biggest customer.

Flying on the A380 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience new levels of in-flight luxury, from first class to economy. The cabin of the world’s largest and most say, comfortable passenger aircraft, allows passengers to stretch out in the widest seats while relaxing in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.

But the A380’s glory years came to a halt earlier than Airbus had expected. The company announced the cancellation of the Airbus A380 program on February 14, 2019, thus ending its production of the type. In 2020, due mainly to its high fuel consumption and high-profit margins, the Superjumbo only flew on a few routes.

The retirement of the A380 subsequently boiled down to a lack of a substantial backlog, with Airbus having no basis to continue production. The shrink in the A380’s backlog was also sped up by the COVID-19—at the peak of the outbreak, just one of over 200 Airbus A380 aircraft in service was flying, signaling the end of A380 operations.

However, in the post-pandemic era and its return of mass tourism, mothballed A380s began to make an improbable comeback. Three years later, EK is set to fly its A380s to 50 airports for the summer travel season.

Other major carriers such as Etihad (AY) and Lufthansa (LH) have resumed A380 flights, continuing on the legacy of the Superjumbo in the skies two decades later.

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