(CNN) – The two-story Airbus A380, the largest passenger aircraft that the world has known to date, is an incredible sight, whether it is land-based or airborne.
These gravity-defying proportions, combined with the truly enjoyable flying experience, have earned him legions of admirers since his first commercial trip in 2007.
It was therefore not surprising that the February 14 announcement that Airbus intended to cease production of the A380 in 2019 caused consternation, leaving an expiry date aircraft that was once considered the future of aviation.
But how fast will the A380s disappear from our skies? Is the generalized affection for the huge plane sufficient to keep it around, in the same way that many conventional planes continue to fly well beyond their useful life?
Commercially, the days of the superjumbo are clearly numbered. The Airbus announcement follows the cancellation of several orders by key airlines despite the efforts made over the last decade by the aircraft manufacturer to convince them that this aircraft was part of of a new air transport revolution.
That being said, while Airbus continues to offer mechanical support, the A380 has potentially several more years of flying to do. Such modern machines generally have a shelf life of at least two decades, which means we could still ship them in the 2040s or even later.
On the way to the yard bone
But some experts think he could leave much sooner. In death as in life, the A380 seems doomed to an ignominious destiny.
You would not think that of the initial reaction to the news of his disappearance.
"It's really sad," said Richard Quest, CNN presenter and aviation expert. "I covered this since the time when it was still a project known as the A3XX and even before, until its maiden flight and its commissioning. .
The reason for this condition is partly due to the size. The imposing presence of leviathan in flight attracted in its early days a crowd of spectators on the aerodromes. Pilots of other planes deliberately slowed down during taxi to give their passengers a better gawp.
"An amazing plane"
The airlines have rotated to smaller planes instead of superjumbo jets.
Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images
At 79.75 meters, the A380's stature was only battered by the Antonov An-225 Mriya, the world's largest airplane by weight, in length and in span. It can accommodate up to 853 passengers in a single-class configuration, although most of its operators opt for a more spacious layout of 450 to 500 passengers.
"From a purely technological point of view, everyone was in agreement that the plane was amazing," says Quest, of CNN. "When they are designed, they may require modifications to gateways and terminals, changes to taxiways to allow two planes to cross each other, but they may not require larger runways.
"Instead, they had to build a plane capable of taking off over a length of about 3,000 meters, so they did it using the wings and engines, an incredible feat."
And then there is the experience of actually flying in an A380.
"It's an exceptionally quiet airplane," says Quest. "I flew away recently, sitting on the upper deck, behind the wings and those huge engines, and you could have a normal conversation, there was practically no noise.
The promise of greater luxury in the skies was one of the A380's main strengths for aviators more accustomed to the cramped conditions of small airplanes or the configuration of tight seats, even in larger machines like the Boeing 747.
Ironically, the 747 – the original jumbo – flew for the first time 50 years ago this month, in February 1969. For decades, it has made international air travel accessible to more passengers than any other airliner.
Nevertheless, it is still in production, Boeing gradually developing the model 747-8 while the major airlines are gradually putting the 747 out of service. It is remarkable that the life of the 747 exceeds that of the A380, perhaps adding even more truth to the argument that the manufacture of a superjumbo was an outdated idea.
Fly in luxury
The Etihad Residence offers a double bed, a private bathroom and a living room.
Courtesy Etihad Airways
At the launch of the A380 in 2007, it was planned to market it to big players by installing casinos on board and suites with double bed, it was the amount of space available. While Virgin's founder, Richard Branson, later came back to the idea of the casino, double beds had been installed on many planes.
Some carriers have used it to set the standard of choice for their first-class deals, with Singapore Airlines, the A380's launch partner, pioneering its award-winning style accommodation following its superjumbos.
The company Gulf Etihad is part of the airlines offering a shower on board the A380, passengers, as well as an exclusive exclusive concept called "The Residence", a complete apartment located in the corner of the upper deck, featuring air conditioning. a living room, a double bedroom, en-suite shower and its own dedicated butler.
"Building such extravagance in a commercial transport plane shows how much space companies have to play with these planes," said Barry Neild, global editor of CNN Travel, who visited a "Residence" during a flight 2017 between London and Abu Dhabi.
But who flies in such opulence? According to the airline's staff, it's a combination of super-rich and aeronautical fanatics looking for the best experiences they can experience in the sky, sometimes stocking up miles of air miles to roll with style.
Nude at 40,000 feet
Inevitably, for a UAE-based carrier, much of the custom comes from the wealthy kingship of the country.
"The butler of the plane where I landed told me that some sheikhs preferred The Residence to their own private jets," Neild adds. "Sometimes they will have their private jet as a result, so they can enjoy the comfort of the long-distance road on the A380 and the convenience of their own plane for short jumps to destination."
And it's worth it?
"I was allowed to take a shower in the residence during the trip," says Neild. "Apart from the dubious right to dress up naked in an airplane at 40,000 feet altitude, it was a level of aircraft comfort all at new fact that instantly reduces the weariness of flying by red eyes.
"It's a bit depressing to go back economy class in a normal plane after trying something like this."
A victim of fashion
The Emirates A380s had a lounge bar.
STR / AFP / Getty Images
Airports, too, as part of the A380's vision as experts, laid the groundwork for a future in which large aircraft carrying passengers between London, Dubai and Atlanta could clog their air traffic and connect then to short-distance flights. jets.
Doors, sometimes entire terminals, have been reconfigured to accommodate larger aircraft.
However, despite the huge increase in the number of air passengers – and the steady increase in the number of super-airports, things did not go as planned.
As with Concorde before him, the problem of the A380 is of economic order. If the airlines had been able to complete each flight at full capacity, it would have been a success: carrying more passengers at a lower cost per passenger.
"In retrospect, it's still easy to be wise, but the Airbus gamble on the A380 has failed terribly," says Murdo Morrison, strategic content manager at FlightGlobal, an intelligence specialist. 39; aviation.
"The strategy of most airlines required smaller and more efficient wide bodies, allowing them to operate from point to point at more frequent times",
Instead, airlines turned to lighter and more fuel-efficient passenger aircraft, meaning that by 2019, Airbus had sold less than a quarter of the planned 1,200 A380s.
The Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner have already proved it. And the future Boeing 777-9 will accommodate more than 400 passengers – thanks to the addition of huge lightweight carbon fiber wings, speeding up the disappearance of the A380.
"It's been 15 years since Airbus has been trying to convince skeptical airlines and the media that the A380's timing is near," Morrison said. "In the end, the simple economy has triumphed."
So, how long does the A380 keep flying? Despite the decades of service remaining in the new models, this future could still be determined by the economic situation. Already, the first superjumbos have been decommissioned and destined to be saved.
FlightGlobal, of Morrison, said that with the low demand in the market of the occasion, the life of the giant aircraft will be shorter than that of smaller models.
"The first customers of the plane, including Emirates, have already planned to retire their older A380s," he said. "Many others will be heading to the scrapheap throughout the 2020s".
But will the A380 follow the trajectory of the supersonic Concorde aircraft, enjoying a life after death thanks to the veneration of its supporters?
An A380 has already been installed at the Bourget Aerospace Museum, near Paris, but the CNN Quest newspaper said that other planes would probably not follow.
"Concorde imagined an aspiration, something that only a few could fly but that everyone wanted to fly," he says. "And he did something that no other plane did." The same can not be said of the 380.
"Instead, we'll probably end up with a gigantic scrameap of 380s, unless Airbus makes an agreement to buy them back.
"It's certainly too big for a museum."