The Airbus A380 is the biggest operational passenger airliner in the world. The megajet took over this position from the Boeing 747 in October 2007 when it started commercial operations with Singapore Airlines. The A380 has two main decks over the full length of the fuselage, offering room to 525 passengers in a standard three-class layout and a maximum of more than 800 in high-density configuration.
Airbus started studying large capacity airliner concepts in the early 1990s in order to attack Boeing's 747-monopoly. The project was first designated 'A3XX' and later renamed 'A380'. The designation 'A380' was chosen because the double-deck fuselage cross section looks like an '8'. 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 Airbus chose a layout with two main passenger decks. In the standard cabin layout, the main deck offers ten abreast seating (3+4+3 - eleven-abreast in high-density configuration) and on the upper deck, the passengers sit eight-abreast (2+4+2).
Airbus launched full-scale development of the A380 in December 2000 after collecting orders for 55 aircraft from six airlines. The first flight of the A380 took place on 27 April 2005. About 25 per cent of the airframe consists of composite materials instead of 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 logistic process of bringing all Airbus A380 parts to the final assembly line in Toulouse is very complex. Major components are built by Airbus plants in the UK, Germany, Spain and Northern France have to be transported to the final assembly line in Toulouse. Smaller components, like the vertical fin, are carried by Airbus A300-600ST Beluga aircraft, but for the transport of bigger parts, like fuselage sections, the tailplane and the wings special ships, barges and road vehicles have been constructed for this job. These are first transported to Bordeaux by ship. There the components are loaded on barges, which bring them to Langon. From there a road convoy travels 200 kilometres (124 miles) to Toulouse, where final assembly of the A380 takes place. The convoy, escorted by police and security vehicles, passes narrow country roads and village streets. Sometimes the aircraft parts are only centimetres away from the buildings in the villages. At some places new roads were created to avoid towns and bridges, but in Levignac, the convoy has to pass right through the middle of the village. This happens during the night, every two weeks. Many people come to see it, as if it is part of the yearly Tour de France bicycle race.
The first delivery took place to Singapore Airlines on 15 October 2007 and the airline introduced the A380 on 25 October 2007 on its Singapore-Sydney service, one and a half year later than originally planned. The delay was caused by problems with the complex wiring of the aircraft. On the assembly line, many wires and cables appeared too short. The whole wiring of the aircraft had to be redesigned. The cause of the problem was the use of two different versions of the CATIA computer-aided design software by the Airbus partners which didn't match correctly. Correcting the problem increased the development costs with billions of euro's.
Other airlines putting the A380 into service so far, are Qantas, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates Airline, China Southern, Korean Air, British Airways, Thai Airways International, Malaysia Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. The biggest user is Emirates, which ordered 140 aircraft and early in 2015 it flew over 50 of them. Part of the first class section of the Emirates A380s are two shower suites, a unique feature for an airliner. The business model of Emirates is built around the A380 to make Dubai the world's biggest and busiest airport, primarily as a transfer hub.
In spite of the 140 aircraft sold to Emirates, Airbus is not very successful in selling the A380. Until early 2015 it had 318 orders in the books, but of some customers like Virgin Atlantic (6) and Hong Kong Airlines (10) it is highly uncertain if they will ever fly. Among passengers the aircraft is very popular and it is attracting gazes from the public at airports everywhere in the world, but airlines are hesitant to buy it, because they fear that it is hard to fill the large number of seats. In spite of the recent success of the Middle-Eastern hubs Dubai, Abu Dhabi (Etihad), Doha (Qatar Airways) and Ankara (Turkish Airlines), the hub transfer concept for which the A380 was designed, seems to become less important with the advance of twin-engine, very long-haul aircraft like the Boeing 777 and 787 and Airbus's own A350, which can connect secondary cities bypassing the hub airports.
So far Airbus offers only the basic A380, the A380-800, and is not in a hurry to develop more versions. Airbus discontinued the development of the A380-800F freighter after all customers, including UPS and Federal Express (FedEx), cancelled their orders because of the development and production delays. Airbus has mentioned ideas about a shortened A380-700 and it is still talking about a stretched A380-900, which will seat more than one thousand passengers in a single-class layout. It remains to be seen, however, if these versions will ever fly. Most probable seems the development of an A380neo with new, more fuel efficient engines. Emirates Airline is pushing it enthusiastically and announced that it would like to replace all its current version aircraft with neos in the future.