Airbus a380 Guide and Specs: Does Bigger Mean Better?

Introduction

The Airbus A380 was the first brand new aircraft program of the 21st century and was designed by Airbus to chip away at the dominance the Boeing 747 enjoyed in the long-haul market. On the 19th of December 2000, Airbus allocated €9.5 billion ($10.7 billion at the time) to the project and the A380 was officially launched. After 4 years of development, the prototype was unveiled on the 18th of January 2005 and flew for the first time on the 27th of April 2005. The resulting aircraft was a 4-engine, double-decker behemoth that seats a maximum of 853 passengers. It is the largest aircraft Airbus has designed and is the largest passenger aircraft on the planet. Production was to take place in the same year, however, the first aircraft was only delivered in 2007 after it was delayed by wiring issues. 

In 2019 Airbus announced that A380 production would end in 2021. Over its 14-year production run, 251 units were made. The last unit was delivered to Emirates Airlines, which is the largest customer of the aircraft, with a total of 123 orders. Though it’s considered a feat of engineering, the aircraft is deemed an economic failure, with the proceeds from the sales never covering the final development cost of roughly €30 billion ($31.96 billion). 

Airbus A380 Specifications

Exterior Dimensions
Length 72.7 m
Height 24.1 m
Fuselage Max Diameter 7.1 m
Wingspan 79.8 m
Wing Area 845 m²
Wing Sweep 33.5 degrees
Wheelbase 31.9 m
Wheel Track 14.3 m 
Cabin Dimensions
Length 49.9 m
Height 7.9 m
Width (Upper Deck) 5.8 m
Width (Main Deck) 6.5 m
Cabin Volume (Including Cargo & Baggage) 550 m³ 
Cargo Volume 171 m³ (ft³
Bulk Hold Volume 18.4 m³ (ft³
Maximum Volume of Pallets 2250 ft³ (63.7 m³)
Container Capacity 5700 ft³ (161.4 m³)
Weights
Maximum Ramp Weight (Base) 562,000 kg (1,238,998 lb)
Maximum Ramp Weight (Max) 577,000 kg (1,272,067 lb)
Maximum Take-Off Weight (Base) 560,000 kg (1,234,600 lb)
Maximum Take-Off Weight (Max) 575,000 kg (1,267,658 lb)
Maximum Landing Weight (Base) 386,000 kg (850,984 lb)
Maximum Landing Weight (Max) 394,000 kg (868,621 lb)
Maximum Zero Fuel 361,000 kg (795,869 lb)
Typical Payload 664,000 kg (1,463,869 lb)
Typical Operating Em 277,000 kg (610,700 lb)
Performance
Range (with Max Passengers) 8,000 nm (15,000 km)
Long Range Cruise Mach 0.85 (567 kts / 652 mph / 1,050 kmph)
Maximum Operating Speed Mach 0.89 (593 kts / 683 mph / 1,099 kmph)
Fuel Capacity 320,000 l (84,535 gal)
Fuel Burn (Average) 13,500 kg/hr (29,762 lb/hr)
Takeoff Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW) 2950 m (9,680 ft)
Service Ceiling 13137 m (43,100 ft)
Rated Takeoff Thrust (each) 70,000 lbf (311 kN)
Rated APR Thrust (each) 72,000 lbf (320 kN)
Noise Level (Departure) 94.8 dB
Noise Level (Flyover) 95.2 dB
Noise Level (Approach) 98 dB
Occupancy
Flight Crew 2
Occupancy (4 Class) 545
Occupancy Max 853
Systems
Flight Deck Proprietary Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) System
Engine(s) Rolls-Royce Trent 900
Engine Alliance GP 7200
Auxiliary Power Unit Pratt & Whitney PW980

Airbus A380 Performance and Flight Characteristics

The large size of the A380 didn’t affect the flight characteristics negatively. In fact, the larger size allowed it to land in higher crosswinds and handle turbulence better and the four engines offered more redundancy and safety in the case of an engine failure. The A380 was also quieter than its competitor both for its passengers and people on the ground.

The main drawback of the A380 was also its selling point: the size. Landing the aircraft on smaller runways meant there was litter room for error during touchdowns, and wingtip clearance had to be given extra emphasis. The fuel economy on the A380 was also disappointing and eventually became one of the many factors behind the decision to end the A380 line. 

Airbus A380 Modifications and Options

In 2010, Airbus announced that the A380-800 would be improved. The airframe of the aircraft was strengthened and the wing twist was increased by 1.5° to improve lift generation. The strengthening of the aircraft meant that it could carry a higher payload, and the maximum takeoff weight was increased by 4,000 kg (8,800 lb) and changes were made to increase the range by 100 nmi (182 km). These performance upgrades were offered as an option. 

Airbus A380 Price

In 2017, the base Airbus A380 had a sticker price of $445.6 million (€417.7 million). However, the A380 is known for its customization, with airlines like Emirates installing first-class suites and amenities to rival 5-star hotels. The upper limit on the price of an A380 doesn’t exist. 

The pandemic caused the aviation industry to come to a standstill in 2019, and it saw some semblance of normality only two years later. This period of inactivity caused the A380 to become all but obsolete, as the need for large passenger aircraft became nonexistent. As a result, the prices for A380s fell sharply. In May of 2021, Emirates purchased an A380 for just $110.6 million (€103.6 million). Around the same time frame, All Nippon Airways (ANA) newest A380 was valued at $92.95 million, 11% less than what Emirates paid for it.

The aftermarket prices of A380s didn’t fare any better. A 13-year-old A380 that had completed 49,632 hours in 2021 was priced at a laughable 41.05 million. While depreciation plays a factor when it comes to aftermarket prices, the low resale prices of A380s seem almost artificial. 

Airbus A380 Operation Costs

The operation of an aircraft incurs a variety of costs. We can separate them into two categories: fixed and variable.

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs do not change regardless of the usage of the aircraft. The amount paid will be the same if it flies 10,000 hours or never takes off. 

The fixed cost breakdown is as follows:

Lease Cost

Airlines rarely purchase aircraft in full. Rather, it is paid off over an agreed time frame. The amount paid yearly depends on the price the aircraft was purchased at, how long the lease is for and the interest rate. Since some airlines have paid upwards of $445 million (€417.7 million) for their A380s, while others have paid only a quarter of the sticker price, a blanket lease cost for the A380 is impossible to estimate. 

Crew Salary

According to Emirates, the average annual salary for a captain on an A380 is $192,000 (€179,200), and a first officer is paid $145,200 ($135,460). The salaries mentioned include the housing allowance each pilot receives. The A380 is mainly used for long-haul flights, and a majority of them require two crews to maintain duty times for the crew. 

An airplane cannot function without flight attendants, and a fully-loaded Airbus A380 requires up to 21 to function seamlessly. The median annual salary for a flight attendant is $80,000, which means an airline operating fully loaded A380 long-haul flights costs an airline a maximum of $2,354,000 (€2,199,800) in salaries alone. 

Maintenance Costs

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), all aircraft have to go through scheduled maintenance. While member states can choose their timelines, almost everyone has chosen to adopt the schedule outlined by the ICAO. 

While the majority of maintenance costs depend on the hours that an aircraft flies there are time-sensitive maintenance checks that have to be conducted regardless of the hours an aircraft flies, these can be considered fixed costs. 

Insurance

The amount airlines pay to insure themselves, their aircraft, and employees aren’t common knowledge. However, the cost per seat for an A380 should be lower than the competition because the aircraft has a brilliant safety record and has recorded no hull losses or fatalities. 

Variable Costs

As the name suggests, variable costs vary with use. There are several variable costs that an operator has to manage. Still, the main categories are fuel, storage, and operating fees 

Fuel

The highest variable cost for any airline is fuel. The A380 burns an average of 4,600 gals (11,400 l) of fuel per hour, but this is a ballpark figure and varies wildly based on the altitude and other performance factors. The total cost per hour for fuel for an A380 will be $22,080 (€20,570) at the rate of $4.80 a gallon. 

Other variables that affect fuel costs are location and the global economy. Right now, a gallon of fuel would cost more in Europe than it would in Asia because of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

At the beginning of the decade, a metric tonne or 1000 kg (2,204 lbs) of Jet-A1 cost $650, but the lack of travel during the pandemic cause a drop in oil prices. Just one year later, a tonne of Jet-A1 cost $450, a $200 reduction. In January of 2022, the price has nearly doubled, with a tonne of Jet-A1 costing $816. 

Operating Costs

Operating costs for a flight can include navigation fees, airport taxes, and food and drink served aboard the aircraft. On a long-haul flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, an A380 cost roughly $4,400 (€4,100) an hour. 

Storage Costs

The main methods of storing aircraft are tie-down storage or hangar storage. 

Tie-down storage is just renting some ramp space to park the aircraft on. An A380 will cost an average of $2,700 (€2,520) for every 8 hours it is parked on the apron in Frankfurt, Germany. 

Hangars keep the aircraft safe and out of reach from the elements. Few hangars are large enough to fit an entire A380, so most of the time, an A380 has to make do with having various parts of the aircraft sticking out of a hangar during maintenance. 

Hangar costs vary wildly globally depending on a variety of factors, the main one being the location because of this, it’s difficult to provide a median cost for a single A380. For reference, an A380 renting a hangar in Frankfurt, Germany is charged $7,550 (€7,050) for 8 hours.

Airbus A380 Variants

There were multiple variants of the A380 proposed by Airbus, however, the high development costs, and the waning interest in the A380 meant that none of these would ever be produced. 

A380-F Freighter

Airbus offered the cargo version of the A380-800, named the A380-F. It could carry a total of 150,000 kg (330,000 lb), and the payload was higher than any freighter in operation, except for the Antonov AN-255 Mriya. The A380-F could transport its maximum payload over a range of 5,600 nmi (10,400 km)

A380-900

When the A380 project was launched in 2000, a stretched variant of the A380 was proposed. In November 2007 the larger variant, designated A380-900, was slated for development. The aircraft would seat 650 and 900 passengers in the standard and economy versions, respectively. The development of the A380-900 was suspended in May 2010.

In December of 2014, the CEO of Airbus stated that Airbus will one day launch an A380 Neo and a stretched A380. In June of the following year, the seating on the A380-900 was revised to 850 seats, not the originally planned 900. 

A380-Neo

The introduction of fuel-efficient aircraft from Boeing and Airbus’s A350 lineup meant that operating the A380 was becoming less feasible unless it became more efficient. The development and production of the A380 new engine option or Neo for short were being discussed with multiple customers of the existing A380.

The aircraft would be based on the A380-900 platform and feature newer engines. In July of 2015, the CEO of the company announced that the company will build a new version of the aircraft with newer engines and aerodynamically improved wings, and would potentially enter service in 2020. However, the plans fell apart just one year after, when Emirates no longer showed interest in the project. 

A380-Plus

The A380-Plus was proposed in 2017, it increased the number of seats of the standard A380 by 80, and was meant to be more economical, the overall changes would result in a 13% reduction in costs per seat. The extra seats weren’t the result of a cabin redesign, instead, the space inside the current A380-800 was carefully rearranged to free up space. The wing was to undergo heavy changes. The split scimitar winglets were added to reduce wake turbulence and drag. The wing twist and camber were also changed to reduce drag and increase lift. The changes to the wing alone accounted for a 4% increase in fuel economy over the standard model. 

Furthermore, the lighter inflight-entertainment system, updated flight management system, and the more advanced fuel pumps from the A350 were to be integrated into the A380-Plus. These changes were meant to improve reliability and cut down maintenance times. The downtime would be reduced by 6 days, and checks would only be required every 1000 hours, a 33% increase from the base model. 

Airbus A380 Competitors

Boeing 747

The Airbus A380 has only one true competitor: the original jumbo-jet, the Boeing 747. It’s the reason the Airbus A380 exists. Airbus needed to compete with Boeing in the long-haul market and the result was the A380. In comparison to the A380, the B747 is smaller, less powerful, and less efficient. However, the B747 platform was over 3 decades old by the time the A380 hit the market, and the fact that it was dethroned by the A380 wasn’t a surprise. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Question: What is Accelerate Stop Distance (ASDA)?

Answer: The accelerated stop distance is a safety calculation that is carried out before each flight. It is the distance required for an aircraft to accelerate to V1, abort the takeoff, and come to a full stop. ASDA has to be within the useable length of the runway.

Question: What is Mach Number?

Answer: The Mach number is related to the speed of sound. A Mach number of one is the speed of sound, 666 knots (1234 kmph), while a Mach number of 0.90 is 90 percent of the speed of sound or 600 knots (1111 kmph). Airplanes today, save for the Concorde, are designed limited to speeds less than the speed of sound. 

Question: What is Mmo?

Answer: The Mach number is related to the speed of sound. A Mach number of one is the speed of sound, which is also 666 knots (1234 kmph). The A380 has a maximum Mach number (Mmo) of Mach 0.89, meaning that the maximum speed a G100 can fly at is 89 percent of the speed of sound, which is 593 kts, 683 mph or 1,099 kmph.

Recommended Reads:

References

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Emirates discloses pilot staff salaries – Aviation news. (2017, May 10). Aviation News – Aviation Voice. https://aviationvoice.com/emirates-discloses-pilot-staff-salaries-201705101034/

Flynn, D. (2015, May 6). Emirates expects an A380neo update mid-year. Executive Traveller. https://www.executivetraveller.com/airbus-confirms-a380neo-and-a380-stretch

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Salary.com, S. built by: (n.d.). Flight attendant salary. Salary.Com. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.salary.com/research/salary/benchmark/flight-attendant-salary

Simple Flying. (2020, August 20). The Airbus A380plus: The Superjumbo That Never Was. Simple Flying. https://www.simpleflying.com/airbus-a380-plus/

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