On Valentine’s Day, Airbus confirmed that production of the massive A380 airliner will come to an end, breaking some plane nerds’ hearts. When it was unveiled to the world in 2005, Airbus touted its efficiency over twin-engined long-haul planes, but this mighty carbon-fiber double-decker never lived up to expectations. Not all airports could accommodate its physical size, and getting the self-loading cargo on and off could take a while.
Unlike the 747, it doesn’t appear set to have a continued career carrying cargo, either. You’d expect the biggest passenger plane of the skies to make a pretty decent freighter. But there’s no folding nose variant, so you can’t take full advantage of its commodious interior to carry really big stuff. In 2021, the last A380 will depart final assembly in Toulouse, France. By then, more than 300 of these carbon composite skywhales should have been delivered, and so we expect they’ll remain a regular sight at airports they already service.
The Airbus superjumbo never really captured the public’s heart the way the 747 has, and there’s no denying the decision to put the cockpit on the lower deck gives the plane a hydrocephalic appearance. But the complex curvature of the wing is a thing of beauty, and it’s always wonderful to see something so large land so gracefully. (If you time your visit to the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy annex for the right time of day, you can watch them come in up on the observation deck.)
Flying long-distance in an A380 can be an opulent affair. Both Singapore Airlines and Emirates have private first class suites on board, and the flying bar—first seen on the original jumbo jet—has made something of a comeback, too. The promo shots have a certain air of “crew quarters on NCC-1701D,” although you’ll see from the gallery(or on YouTube) that they’re a little smaller than that. Further aft things are more spartan, and pick the upper deck because the 2-4-2 layout is less cramped than downstairs’ 3-4-3.
I’ve only been fortunate enough to fly an A380 once (of late 747s appear to be the preferred type for Dulles to Heathrow). But that one trip made me fall for the big plastic bird. It was a quiet and smooth ride, and the bathrooms at the front of the upper deck were bigger than the bathrooms of some houses I’ve lived in. Here’s to you, you majestic flying cruise liner.