Are we witnessing the end of the jumbo jet?

They’re flying away
They’re flying away
Image: AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

First it was the Boeing 747 now it’s the Airbus A380. The world’s largest airplanes are falling out of favor with passenger airlines.

In 2017, as the slow death march of the 747 continued, the number of A380 flights was stalling. Departure growth of the A380—the rate airlines are flying new flights with the plane—is at its lowest ever. 2018 could be the plane’s turning point.

Emirates, the largest operator of the A380 with 100 planes, is in negotiations to order more but is dragging its feet. Amedeo, one of the worlds largest leasers of A380s, recently announced plans to start an A380-only airline rather than continue to face the difficulty of leasing the planes to reticent operators.

Additionally, competition from budget airlines has caused carriers to reassess every expense. With four engines each, both the A380 and Boeing 747 are gas guzzlers. As such, over the last decade, airlines looking to carry high volumes of passengers have turned to two-engine models, like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330.

Jumbo jets also have higher operational costs. That’s not an issue for companies that can fill larger planes and spread the cost over hundreds of passengers, but larger planes are harder to fill.

The same passengers that fill an A380 can be distributed to a number of smaller planes, and that allows airlines to control more runway slots at airports. From a competitive standpoint, more takeoffs and landings means less room for the competition, even if those competitors have the biggest plane in the market.