The crisis due to the coronavirus risks giving the final blow to the Airbus A380, symbol of the frantic development of air transport but already considered as not profitable enough by airlines today on their knees. The giant of Airbus, industrial flagship but commercial failure, has all the air of Concorde, whose fate had been shattered by the oil shock of the 1970s.
The European aircraft manufacturer had already planned to stop deliveries of its giant aircraft to the 251 aircraft ordered next year. But for most of the 14 customers, the largest civilian aircraft in the world may well not return to the skies at all when air traffic, wiped out by the pandemic, resumes.
With their fleets currently nailed to the ground, airlines are expected to see revenues fall 55% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata). And traffic should not return to its pre-crisis level for two to three years, said Boeing boss David Calhoun. So many perspectives that lead companies to review their future flight programs. And their fleet.
“The airlines will release the least efficient and oldest planes as a priority. The question of the A380 will arise very clearly»Although he made his first flight just 15 years ago, predicts Guillaume Hue, air transport expert at Archery Strategy Consulting.
The first victims will be “four-jet widebody“(B747, A340) and in particular the A380, which”was particularly inflexible, which puts him in a very difficult positionAbounds Rob Morris, aeronautical consultant at Cirium.
By launching the A380 project, Airbus had bet on the development of “hubs»Megacities, served by a very large capacity aircraft, but which requires adjustments and imposes the highest possible occupancy rate to ensure the profitability of the lines.
A failed bet for the European aircraft manufacturer. Airbus had not seen the turning point of medium-capacity long-haul jets like the B787 coming.DreamlinerFrom Boeing, which focused on point-to-point development, that is to say direct links. He has since successfully replied with his A350.
Expert at Teal Group, Richard Aboulafia predicts him a “bloodbathFor the Airbus flagship. Especially since the widebody market was, according to him, already in overcapacity before the crisis and that international traffic will be the slowest to climb up the slope.
The effects are starting to be felt: the German company Lufthansa announced at the beginning of April that it would durably reduce the size of its fleet, and planned in particular to withdraw its six A380s.
Air France had also planned to advance to 2022 the withdrawal of service from its nine A380s. “With its four reactors, the A380 consumes 20% to 25% more fuel per seat than new generation long-haul aircraft and emits more CO2Then justified the group. With the impact of the coronavirus, “does it make sense to put them back into service by then?Asked Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM in a recent interview at Les Echos.
Emirates, the main customer of the aircraft with 125 aircraft, eight of which remain to be delivered, has not yet announced how it envisages the future of its A380s.
Praised by passengers for its comfort, the A380 is acommercial failure, but that taught us a lot about the A350 and allowed us to change our international stature on the long haulFacing Boeing, explained Airbus executive president Guillaume Faury to French senators in early March.
“The market for very large long-haul aircraft such as the A380 is probably behind us“, He added. We orient ourselves according to him “towards smaller planes, more efficient from an environmental point of view and better suited to the cyclicity of aircraft filling“
A trend that the crisis should reinforce and where Airbus is one step ahead of Boeing. Its long-range single aisle, the A321 XLR, launched last June, has already sold more than 450 copies.
The State to the rescue
For his part, the Minister of Economy Bruno Le Mairea indicated that France was ready to help “totally and if massively necessary” Airbus in the face of the crisis, stressing that the financial aid provided to Air France was already a form of support for the European aircraft manufacturer. “It goes without saying that we will fully and massively support Airbus when the time comes.“, said the Minister of Economy this Wednesday morning on LCI.
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