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Is it the end of Airbus A380 Superjumbo?

Emirates ordered 40 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners at the 2017 Dubai Air Show. The airline was expected to order more Airbus A380s. Emirates is concerned that Airbus may cancel the A380 program. Of the 318 A380 superjumbos that Airbus has sold in the 15 years since it began building the massive aircraft, one airline Emirates has bought nearly half.

The airline, based in Dubai, operates 100 A380s a double-decker aircraft that can carry as many as 800 passengers on long flights being the only airline that owns more than 19.

So when Emirates opened the 2017 Dubai Air Show this week with a blockbuster $15.1 billion order for 40 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners — a sleeker, more efficient aircraft made by Airbus’s rival — it was a massive surprise. In fact, as Bloomberg News reporters at the show noted, Airbus was expected to announce a deal of that very size for the A380. According to sources, Emirates won’t order any more A380s, until Airbus can firmly commit to not canceling the superjumbo.

When Airbus unveiled the A380 in the mid-2000s, it was supposed to revolutionize air travel.

It was to usher in a new era of luxury and comfort, with the economics to make airlines happy. We were dazzled by visions of flying casinos and stylish in-flight lounges. And the sheer magnitude of the aircraft is awe-inspiring. Even though the casino never materialized, the A380 has certainly delivered on the luxury and comfort it promised.

But for airlines, the airplane hasn’t quite delivered the financial returns operators sought — especially when compared with cheaper, more fuel-efficient twin-engine jets like the Boeing 787 and 777, and even the Airbus A350.

The plane billed as the second coming of the Boeing 747 is really no more than a niche product. The 747 itself is on life support, with production rates slowed to one plane every two months. These days, the bulk of long-haul flying is done by twin-engine wide-bodies. “The A380 still has a role on airports that have slot restrictions” — where you can’t add a second flight “or where the scheduling windows work” for a single flight, like out of Los Angeles, representative of the airline said.

That means the only thing that can save the superjumbo is airport congestion. Emirates may still order another tranche of A380s. The airline likes to keep its average fleet age at about six years, and some of its older superjumbos are approaching the 10-year mark. Whether that will be enough to save the A380 remains to be seen.

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