When the time comes for Emirates Airline to bid adieu to the Airbus A380, let’s hope the double-decker deserves the sweet and sincere farewell that United Airlines gave the 747 for its final revenue flight on 7 November.
After 47 years of continuous operation, the image of the 747 may be forever linked to United’s livery and the Chicago skyline. But the A380 will be even more identified with the golden letters of Emirates, paraded past the skyscrapers down Sheikh Zayed Road. Everything must end, and so United and the 747 eventually had to part. The last passenger-carrying flight flew from San Francisco to Honolulu, retracing the original 747’s first route for United in 1970. The -400’s next stop is a scrap yard in the Mojave Desert, while 777-300ERs, 787-9s and, eventually, Airbus A350-900s, take its place on the long-haul, continent-linking routes that the jumbo jet made possible. But that final day still seems very far off for Emirates’ slowly-increasing stable of A380s.
Ten years and one week after the type was introduced by launch operator Singapore Airlines, Emirates took delivery of the carrier’s 100th double-decker. Forty-two more A380s remain Dubai-bound in the backlog, and Emirates is already talking about ordering more. The carrier that is responsible for 45% of all A380 orders placed to date could soon account for well over half. In some ways, this is an ideal set-up for both buyer and seller: Airbus secures the A380 in production for years to come at current production rates, and Emirates preserves access to a type that is essential to its unique strategy.
For several years, Airbus has said that the A380 is an aircraft whose time has not yet come – and strangely, the story of the 747 can be said to support that belief: it took Boeing more than 11 years to sell as many 747s as the A380 has on backlog today. With orders depleted now for the passenger-carrying 747-8I model, there is a solitary option left in a segment that can barely sustain one aircraft type, let alone two. But the path to a long production run for the A380 is still far from assured. Boeing has delivered more than 20 different variants of the 747 over its production run, for a wide range of missions. There is still only one version of the A380 that flies only one mission for a small number of customers. If that does not change, the Emirates version of United’s farewell to the 747 may come much sooner than expected.