Since October 2007 the Airbus A380 is the biggest operational passenger airliner in the world. The A380 megajet took over this position from the Boeing 747, the Jumbo Jet. Compared to the 747 the A380 has two maindecks over the full length of the fuselage and it offers room to 40 procent more passengers: 525 in a three-class layout and a maximum of more than 800.
Airbus started studying large capacity airliner concepts in the early 1990s in order to break Boeing's 747-monopoly. The project was first designated 'A3XX' and later renamed 'A380' ('8' because of the double deck). The Airbus A380 is primarily intended as an aircraft connecting busy air traffic hubs. In the earliest phases of the project Airbus studied several design proposals including a concept with two A340-fuselages side-by-side but in the end chose a double-decker layout with two main passengers decks. The designation A380 was chosen because the double-deck fuselage cross-section looks like an '8'.
Airbus launched the full-scale development of the A380 in December 2000 with orders for 55 aircraft from six airlines. The first flight of the A380 took place on April 27 2005. Airbus claims that the A380 is 15 to 20 per cent less fuel thirsty per seat than the 747 and less noisy. About 25 per cent of the airframe consists of composite materials instead of traditional aluminium. One of the new materials used is GLARE, a composite of aluminium and glass fibre layers developed in The Netherlands. GLARE (GLAss-REinforced fibre metal laminate) is used in upper fuselage skin panels.
The first delivery of an Airbus A380 to Singapore Airlines took place on October 15 2007, one and a half year later than originally intended. The delay was, according to Airbus, caused by the complex wiring of the aircraft. There is more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) of wire in an A380. A related problem was the use of two different versions of the CATIA computer-aided design software. Singapore introduced the A380 on October 25 on its flights between Singapore and Sydney.
Airbus has planned several versions of its megajet. The basic aircraft is the A380-800. Airbus discontinued the development of the A380-800F freighter after all customers, including UPS and Federal Express (FedEx), cancelled their orders because of the production delays. The freighter version might be developed at a later stage. Airbus has also plans for a shortened A380-700 and a stretched A380-900, which will seat more than one thousand passengers in a single-class layout.
The logistic process of bringing all Airbus A380 parts to the final assembly line in Toulouse is very complex. Major assemblies are too big for transport by Airbus A300-600ST Beluga aircraft. Special ships, barges and road vehicles were constructed instead. Among the first customers of the A380 are Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways International, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, China Southern Airlines and Qatar Airways. In early 2011 airlines had placed 244 orders and Airbus had delivered more than 40 aircraft. The biggest customer is Dubai-based Emirates with firm orders for no less than 90 aircraft, more than a third of all orders. A luxurious biz-jet version of the A380 is named 'Flying Palace'.