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Why the AIRBUS A380 has failed the airlines

Perfect aircraft but too heavy is the verdict on the A380 superjumbo from outspoken Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker who is known to be one of the fiercest critics of underperforming aircraft.

The premature ending of the A380 program seems to be imminent with biggest customer Emirates in discussions with Airbus and engine maker Rolls Royce about a possible switch of its latest 20 firm A380 orders to A350s.

Airlineratings.com asked Al Baker this week about his take of the fate of the A380. “As an aircraft, it is very well suited for routes that require high capacity. We have successfully deployed it in markets where we see this large volume of passengers and operate to slot-restricted airports,” said Al Baker on the sidelines of a CAPA conference about aeropolitics in Doha.

Qatar Airways operates ten A380s from Doha to destinations such as Paris-CDG, Frankfurt and London-Heathrow “and we are still happy with the aircraft we have”, said Al Baker.

“We don’t use this aircraft to dump capacity as some people do. We will only deploy an aircraft on a route that is tailor-made for the required capacity that the destination can take.”

Overall he bows to the innovation of the program: “The A380 was a game changer, but maybe it came at the wrong time with the fuel prices skyrocketing after its introduction. As an aircraft, it is very well suited for routes that require high capacity.”

But Al Baker did not hide what he sees as the reason for a possible failure of Airbus’s biggest aircraft program ever: “To me, this aircraft is very heavy, has very high fuel consumption, and that’s because the aircraft structure was built for a stretch. I think Airbus made the same mistake they made with the A330 and A340, which had a common wing.

“The A380’s structure can take another 100 tons. It would have been better if they had tailor-made the wing to suit the size of the airplane. Which means you would have taken so much weight off the wing that you would have been able to make it very fuel-efficient and then it would have been a perfect airplane.” He said he wouldn’t be sad for the program to be terminated, but “it is up to Airbus to decide if to keep building it or stop the production.”

Last year, Qatar Airways received 25 new aircraft for a total of 230 in the fleet currently. Four more arrived only in January. Early next year, Qatar will be one of the first operators of the Boeing 777X of which it ordered sixty, opting to have Emirates as launch operator smoothen out all the early glitches of a new type.

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