Airbus to axe A380 superjumbo program in 2021 as Emirates reduces order

Europe's Airbus announced plans to scrap production of the A380 superjumbo on Thursday, abandoning its dream of dominating the skies with a cruiseliner for the 21st century after years of lacklustre sales.

The world's largest airliner, with two decks of spacious cabins and room for 544 people in standard layout, was designed to challenge Boeing's legendary 747 but failed to take hold as airlines backed a new generation of smaller, more nimble jets.

Airbus said in a statement that the last A380 would be delivered in 2021.

Confirming a shake-up first reported by Reuters, it said Emirates - the largest A380 customer - had decided to reduce its orders for the iconic superjumbo and order a total of 70 of the smaller A350 and A330neo models.

The European company said it would enter talks with unions in coming weeks over the 3,000-3,500 jobs potentially affected.

Airbus will produce 17 more of the planes including 14 for Emirates and 3 for Japanese airline ANA.

As part of the restructuring, Emirates placed a new order for 40 A330-900neo jets and 30 A350-900 aircraft, partially restoring a purchase of A350 aircraft which it cancelled in 2014.

LEADING BUYER 'DISAPPOINTED'

Emirates, which had built its global brand around the A380 and Boeing 777 and which also has 100 of the Airbus superjumbos in its fleet, said it was disappointed by the closure.

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"Emirates has been a staunch supporter of the A380 since its very inception," said Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum.

"While we are disappointed to have to give up our order, and sad that the programme could not be sustained, we accept that this is the reality of the situation," he added.

The A380 will remain a pillar of the Emirates fleet well into the 2030s, stated the airline.

Emirates' local rival Etihad of Abu Dhabi also disclosed it was cutting some Airbus and Boeing jet orders, highlighting growing questions over the growth of Gulf airlines.

Making its maiden flight in 2005, the A380 was a major step in Airbus's efforts to compete on equal terms with Boeing and challenge what had been a cash cow for its arch-rival.

But sales of the industry's largest four-engined jets have fallen due to improvements in lighter twin-engined alternatives, such as the Boeing 787 and 777 or Airbus's own A350.

The prospect of a premature halt to A380 production emerged last month as part of a restructuring of orders first reported by Reuters.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Airbus was poised to axe the superjumbo and would likely give an update coinciding with results due on Thursday morning.

The decision to scrap production is the last major step by outgoing Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders. 

Airbus may eke out a few last-minute A380 orders from British Airways. Qantas formally cancelled its longstanding order for eight more superjumbos last week.

The prospect of shutting output comes at an awkward moment for Airbus as rival Boeing celebrates the 50th anniversary of its 747 jumbo - the jet that revolutionised long-haul travel and which Europe's A380 was designed to squeeze out of the market.

See: The Boeing 747 turns 50, but its future looks bleak

The 747 survives mainly as a freighter and VIP transport, whereas a planned cargo version of the A380 has already been axed due to lack of interest and the sole VIP version of the A380 sold to a Saudi prince was cancelled several years ago.

That left the A380 reliant solely on passenger demand at a time when advances in twin-engined jets like the Boeing 777 and A350 made four-engined models like the A380 less popular.

Reuters

See also: Too big, too expensive: Why airlines are abandoning the superjumbo

See also: First A380 retired, parked in mountains awaiting sale or scrap

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