History of Airbus A380, the World’s Only Full-Length Double Deck Passenger Aircraft

The A380 is no longer in production and was available in just one variant – the A380-800. Other variants were proposed but never produced, including the A380 Freighter (A380F), the A380-200 or ‘A380 Stretch’, the A380-900 (another stretched variant), the A380neo (stretched, new engines and higher passenger capacity), and the A380plus (higher seat capacity and improved fuel efficiency).

What makes the A380 unique is that it is the world’s largest passenger airliner and the only full-length double-deck commercial passenger aircraft.

Airbus A380 History

Airbus originally conceived the initial idea for the A380 back in the late 1980s and it was developed as a direct long-haul competitor to the Boeing 747. The A380 program was not launched until 2000, and the first prototype was produced in Toulouse, France in 2005. FAA- and EASA-type ratings were received in 2006.

The first A380 deliveries were delayed and took place in 2007, with Singapore Airlines being the launch customer. At its production peak, Airbus was able to produce thirty A380s a year. The type’s largest customer is Emirates with 123 deliveries. That said, in 2019 Emirates canceled part of a large order, and subsequently, Airbus decided to end the A380’s short-lived production run. The final, 251st A380 was delivered to Emirates in 2021.

Major Airbus A380 Milestones

The history of the A380 goes back to the late 1980s. Let’s take a look at the timeline for the A380 development:

Date Milestone
The late 1980s Airbus begins work to design an ‘ultra-high-capacity airliner’ (UHCA) to compete with the Boeing 747.
September 1990 Airbus announces that it will go ahead with the program for a UHCA at the Farnborough Airshow.
January 1993 Boeing and Airbus start a joint study into a Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT) aircraft.
June 1994 Airbus announces that it will develop a solo high-capacity aircraft program, designated the A3XX, rather than cooperate with Boeing.
July 1995 The Boeing and Airbus joint VLCT program is abandoned.
December 2000 The Airbus Board approves around $9bn to proceed with the A3XX, now officially named the A380.
January 2002 With the A380 design completed in 2001, construction starts on the first A380 components.
January 2005 The first of a total of 5 test A380 aircraft is unveiled in Toulouse, France.
April 2005 The maiden flight of the first test A380 takes place, lasting almost 4 hours.
June 2005 Airbus announces a 6-month delivery delay.
January 2006 An A380 test aircraft successfully completes its first transatlantic flight.
March 2006 An A380 test aircraft successfully achieved a sub-90 seconds test evacuation.
March 2006 The A380 receives EASA- and FAA-type certifications.
June 2006 A380 customers are advised of further delivery delays of 6-7 months.
September 2006 Airbus begins passenger facility and comfort testing using Airbus employees.
October 2006 Airbus announces another delay in the expected delivery dates, with the first delivery now expected in October 2007.
October 15, 2007 The first Airbus A380 is delivered to Singapore Airlines.
October 25, 2007 The first A380 commercial flight takes place between Singapore to Sydney. All of the seats were auctioned with the proceeds going to charity.
August 2008 Emirates launches A380 services between Dubai and New York.
October 2008 Qantas launches A380 services between Melbourne and Los Angeles.

Airbus A380 Double Decker

Airbus A380’s Origins and Development

During the 1970s and 1980s, the largest passenger aircraft was the Boeing 747. The tremendous success of the 747 allowed Boeing to dominate the widebody, long-haul market. The two other major aircraft manufacturers in the market at the time were Lockheed Martin and McDonnell-Douglas who competed head-to-head with their tri-jet widebodies; the L1011 and the MD10.

Lockheed Martin subsequently exited the commercial aircraft market to focus on the defense and space markets, while McDonnell Douglas became part of Boeing. These commercial aircraft market changes opened up an opportunity for Airbus to compete with Boeing in the high-capacity airliner market.

In 1988, Airbus engineers began work in secret on the development of an ultra-high-capacity airliner (UHCA). Airbus’ new project was announced at the 1990 Farnborough Airshow in the UK. As initial design work progressed through the early 1990s, Airbus and Boeing began to cooperate on a joint feasibility study of a Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT) aircraft. The intention was to form a partnership in recognition that the global market for such a product would be relatively limited.

By June 1994, Airbus had decided to progress its own VLCT product and announced the A3XX program. The joint work with Boeing was formally abandoned in July 1995 as Boeing’s forecasts indicated that the limited market meant that the project was unlikely to be profitable.

In hindsight, Boeing was correct as airlines were already moving away from the hub-and-spoke transfer system that relied on a long-haul network of large aircraft to feed smaller regional and domestic services, to more non-stop routes served by smaller point-to-point aircraft.

The 1997-2000 Asian Financial Crisis put pressure on Airbus to ensure that the A3XX would deliver high operating efficiency and the design of the aircraft was modified targeting a 15–20% reduction in operating costs compared to the Boeing 747-400 (read this article for a detailed comparison of the two types).

After looking at a number of design concepts, including a rather wacky double fuselage concept, the A3XX design converged on a single fuselage double-deck layout. Early Airbus marketing for the A3XX suggested the possibility of on-board duty-free shops, restaurants, gyms, casinos, and beauty salons/spas.

However, in practice, the realities of airline economics have kept these fanciful ideas grounded apart from the likes of Emirates’ onboard lounges and shower spa areas in their A380s for use by premium passengers.

In December 2000, the Airbus Board voted to formally launch the €9.5 billion ($10.7 billion) project to build the A380, with 50 firm orders from six launch customers. The A380 designation was chosen because the number 8 resembles the double-deck cross fuselage section, and the number 8 is considered to be a lucky number in some Asian countries where Airbus was trying to sell the aircraft.

The A380 configuration was finalized in early 2001, and manufacturing of the first component, a wing box, began in January 2002. By the time the first A380 was completed, the program development cost had grown to somewhere in the region of €11–14 billion ($12.4 – $15.8 billion). Whilst official figures are not available from Airbus, industry analysts believe that the total true cost of the A380 program could be somewhere in the region of €25 billion ($28.2 billion).

Undeveloped Variants of the Airbus A380

The A380 was available only as one variant – the A380-800. However, Airbus had ideas, and serious plans, for a number of other variants, none of which came to fruition:

  • A380F: A freighter with a payload of up to 150t
  • A380-200 and the A380-900: Both were stretched versions of the A380-800
  • A380neo: An improved and stretched version of the A380-800 with new wings and new engines
  • A380plus: An enhanced A380-800 with more seats achieved through a more efficient internal layout, and better fuel efficiency

Airbus A380 Delivery Headaches

The A380 program proved more challenging than Airbus anticipated. The scale of the aircraft, the design complexity, and the sheer number of parts and components was unprecedented.

Initially, Airbus announced a six months delay in deliveries but this extended to over a year, and the first delivery took place to Singapore Airlines in October 2007. Deliveries to Emirates followed soon after. Compensation payments to airlines were massive, leading to a huge increase in the overall program cost.

Singapore Airlines - A380 Launch Customer

Airbus A380 Orders

The A380 is no longer in production and Airbus received a total of 251 orders from Air France, ANA, Asiana, British Airways, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.

Emirates is by far the A380’s largest customer, accounting for almost 50% of the total orders. Singapore Airlines is the second largest customer accounting for around 10% of orders.

Airbus A380 Orders and Deliveries

Emirates’ Domination and the Demise of the A380 Program

As the dominant and eventually only customer ordering A380s, Emirates was able to ‘call the shots’ when it came to the A380 program. Emirates’ luxurious fit-out of their A380s included the famous suites, an onboard lounge, and a shower area. These luxuries were simply not affordable by other airlines.

Whilst some European and Asian carriers ordered the A380, no American carriers did so. The Americans stuck with the Boeing 747 which, unlike the A380 did not require airports to be extensively modified to cater for the larger wingspan A380.

Emirates continues to operate a large number of its original A380s, but there is a limit to how useful the A380 can be to Emirates’ future growth plans as the A380 can only operate on ‘thick’ routes with high passenger demand. Emirates’ decision to cancel 39 of its remaining 53 A380s on order in 2019, in preference for other Airbus aircraft such as the A350, effectively killed off the A380 program.

Shortly, after the Emirates cancellation, Airbus announced that A380 production would end in 2021. On March 17, 2021, the final Airbus A380 made its maiden flight from Toulouse to Hamburg for cabin outfitting, before being delivered to Emirates on December 16, 2021.

Airbus A380s Still in Service

As of January 2023, only eight airlines were operating the A380, although some airlines still have A380s in storage and are planning to, or may reactivate them in the future. The current eight operators, with their current A380 fleet number, and the current fleet number shown as a percentage of each airline’s original order shown in brackets, are as follows:

In a separate article, we took a closer look at all of the Airbus A380 operators, past and present.

Airbus A380 Operators


The A380 is the world’s largest passenger airliner and the only full-length double-deck commercial passenger aircraft. Witnessing an A380 take-off is a sight to behold. The A380 takes a special place in the world of civil aviation. For many passengers, the A380 is their favorite aircraft to fly in.

However, the A380 program, as bold and ground-breaking as it was, was brought down by a change on the way that many global airlines managed their networks, shifting from hub-and-spoke operations to more point-to-point travel. And, whilst many A380 customers are already retiring some of the A380s, many of these huge aircraft continue to grace our skies and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

4 thoughts on “History of Airbus A380, the World’s Only Full-Length Double Deck Passenger Aircraft”

  1. When I fly UK to New Zealand it’s the only aircraft I want to go on. It’s why I choose Emirates, whose business class upper deck is brilliant. Passengers love the 380, accounts hate them

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How Can I Help You?