Viewpoint

Knives out for the A380

Japanese carrier Skymark Airlines has cancelled an order for six A380s in a move that refocuses the spotlight on the superjumbo’s fragile order book. That has now been reduced to 318 aircraft and a further 12 orders, at least, appear tenuous. These include 10 originally from Hong Kong Airlines but now attributed to an unidentified customer and two speculative commitments from Air Austral, which serves the Indian Ocean isle of La Reunion.

Japanese carrier Skymark Airlines has cancelled an order for six A380s in a move that refocuses the spotlight on the superjumbo’s fragile order book.

That has now been reduced to 318 aircraft and a further 12 orders, at least, appear tenuous. These include 10 originally from Hong Kong Airlines but now attributed to an unidentified customer and two speculative commitments from Air Austral, which serves the Indian Ocean isle of La Reunion.

Airbus released a terse statement today: “Following discussions with Skymark Airlines and in light of the airline’s expressed intentions in respect of the A380, Airbus has in accordance with its contractual rights, notified Skymark Airlines that the purchase order for the six A380s signed in 2011 has been terminated. Airbus is reserving all its rights and remedies.” 

It is now questionable whether Airbus will meet its promise to break even on the A380 by 2015. In 2006 the company said it would need to sell about 420 A380s to push the programme into profit.

Five years ago Talking Point was roundly booed for suggesting that the A380 was becoming a flop for Airbus. Most critics pointed to the slow start for a 747 programme that went on to become one of the most successful in aviation history. Yet nine years after its first flight the 747 had racked up 433 orders, well ahead of the A380, which first flew in April 2005.

Of course, the A380 hasn’t bombed like the 747-8, but Boeing’s updated double-decker didn’t cost anywhere near as much to develop. Its disastrous sales campaign also reflects badly on Airbus in so far as it undermines the airframer’s confidence in the very large aircraft market.

It may transpire that cancelled A380s will be picked up by Emirates, but that will merely heighten fears that Airbus is too dependent on a customer now responsible for 44 per cent of its backlog. In contrast, eight years into service the 747 boasted a diverse list of blue-chip airlines, almost all of whom are still in business today.

Airbus, lamentably, has failed to sign a new airline customer for the A380 in more than two years.

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