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Airbus A380

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Airbus A380 Qantas

A Qantas A380 approaches London Heathrow Airport.

Airbus A380

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 as A3XX and later renamed A380. 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 construction 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 Airlines introduced the A380 on October 25 on its service Singapore-Sydney service.

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 will probably be built at a later stage. Airbus has also plans for shortened A380-700 and a stretched A380-900, which will seat more than one thousand passengers in a single-class layout, although it remains to be seen if these versions will ever fly. For most airlines the current A380-800 is already too big and instead of a smaller A380 airlines might prefer twin-engined aircraft.

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 users are Singapore Airlines, Qantas, Air France, Lufthansa and Korean Air.

In mid 2014 airlines had ordered 318 aircraft. The biggest customer is Dubai-based Emirates with firm orders for no less than 140 aircraft, almost a third of all orders. A luxurious biz-jet version of the A380 is named 'Flying Palace'.

Airbus A380 Qantas
A Singapore Airlines A380 taxies after landing at Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport.

Airbus A380-800

Wing span: 79.8m (261ft 10in)
Length 72,75m (238ft 8in)
Height 24,08 m (79ft)

Empty weight: 276,800 kg (610,700 lb)
Max. take-off weight:
560,000 kg (1,234,600 lb)

Accommodation: 525-822 passengers
Range: 14,800km (8,000 nm)
Max. cruise speed: Mach 0.88

Engine Alliance GP7270
(311 kN / 70.000 lb)
Rolls-Royce Trent 970
(311 kN / 70,000 lb)


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Airbus A380