Fifteen years after the first A380 took flight, there’s now only one in the air

Travel restrictions have grounded the world's superjumbos, with the Airbus A380 dropping from 330 flights per day to just a solitary journey on its anniversary

From 330 flights per day to just one A380 in the sky: the coronavirus pandemic has grounded the world's largest passenger aircraft. Courtesy FlightRadar24

On April 27, 2005, the world’s largest commercial aircraft took to the sky.

Soaring above Toulouse on its first-ever test flight, Airbus’ A380 put the wings in motion for a super-sized era of air travel – one filled with double-decker cabins, fully enclosed apartments and on-board shower spas.

Today, on the 15th anniversary of its maiden flight, only one A380 is currently in the sky. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the majority of the world’s superjumbos to the ground until further notice.

According to global flight tracking service Flightradar24, the only A380 currently in the sky is China Southern’s flight CZ328. The superjumbo departed Los Angeles around midnight on Monday, April 27 on a 13-hour flight towards Guangzhou. It is scheduled to land in China just before 6am on Tuesday, April 28.

Several airlines own A380 aircraft and, pre-pandemic, one of the jets took off or landed somewhere in the world every two minutes.

Emirates is the biggest fan of the aircraft, as the Dubai airline accounts for nearly half of all A380s sold. Sixteen other airlines also own A380s including Etihad, British Airways, All Nippon, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Asiana. Before the coronavirus travel restrictions were implemented, this combined fleet made 330 flights per day, with services to more than 70 destinations.

Super-sized flying

Etihad's The Residence is the first three-roomed apartment on a plane. Courtesy Etihad 

More than 400 airports around the world are compatible with the aircraft, which is the largest passenger jet in history with a seating capacity of up to 853 and a maximum take-off weight of 575 tonnes.

The scale of the A380 is what allowed the world’s airlines to get creative when it came to flying. Emirates installed shower spas and an upper deck lounge on its jets while Etihad introduced The Residence, the only three-bedroom apartment in the sky. Singapore Airlines created first class suites with everything you’d expect from a luxury hotel room, and Korean Airways super-sized its A380 business seats and gave each one an individual sized movie theatre.

Emirates is the biggest A380 customer. The Dubai airline offers shower spas and an upper-deck lounge for premium passegers. Courtesy Emirates 

But bigger isn’t always better, especially in unprecedented situations. Several airlines around the world have grounded passenger flights and turned their focus instead to cargo and repatriation services.

The A380 has been used for a few of these special services, but as demand for repatriation drops, it is becoming less economical for airlines to continue operating such large jets. Smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft are being prioritised to service repatriation efforts.

As the largest commercial jet in the sky, the A380 may have record-breaking seating capacity, wingspan and height, but it cannot match newer, more efficient aircraft on fuel consumption.

The beginning of the end

epa08386039 (FILE) - An Airbus A380 makes a photo pass fly-by in the San Francisco Bay Area in San Francisco, California USA 05 October 2007 (reissued 27  April 2020). Reports on 27 April 2020 state Guillaume Faury, Chief executive of Airbus has written to Airbus employees saying the company is 'bleeding cash at an unprecedented speed, which may threaten the very existence of the company'. The company has lost one third if its business due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has crippled aviation business around the globe.  EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO *** Local Caption *** 54984031

Last year, Airbus announced it would end production of the A380 in 2021 and focus instead on creating jets that are more economical.

But the storied jumbo is not consigned to history just yet. As soon as travel restrictions are lifted and airlines can get their fleets back in the air, the A380 will continue to fly. Emirates previously said it will be in operation until at least 2038.

On the 15th anniversary of the A380’s maiden flight, its parent company is fighting for survival. Reports released earlier today from Reuters state that Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus, has written to employees of the company saying it is "bleeding cash at an unprecedented speed”.

Airbus has lost one third of its business due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.