The troubled history of the Airbus A380
Operations in Practice: The troubled history of the Airbus A380 It is perhaps inevitable that a major new and complex product like a passenger aircraft will experience a few problems during its development. But the history of the Airbus A380 was a long and incident packed journey from drawing board to reality that illustrates the dangers when the design activity goes wrong. This is the story in brief. 1991 - Airbus consults with international airlines about their requirements for a super-large passenger aircraft. January 1993- Airbus rival Boeing says it has begun studies into ‘very large’ commercial aircraft. June 1993- Boeing decides not to go for a super-large passenger aircraft, but instead to focus on designing smaller ‘jumbos’. Airbus and its partners set up the A3XX team to start the ‘super jumbo’ project. 1996 - Airbus forms its ‘Large Aircraft’ Division. Because of the size of the aircraft, it is decided to develop specially designed engines rather than adapt existing models. 2000- The commercial launch of the A3XX (later to be named the A380) 2002- starts on manufacturing the aircraft’s key components. February 2004- Rolls-Royce delivers the first Airbus engines to the assembly plant in Toulouse. April 2004- The first Airbus wings are completed in the North Wales factory. London’s Heathrow airport starts to redevelop its facilities so that it can accommodate the new aircraft.
May 2004- Assembly begins in the Toulouse plant. December 2004- EADS reveals the project is £1.45 billion over budget, and will now cost more than £12 billion. January 2005- Airbus unveils the A380 to the world’s press and European leaders. 27th April 2005- The aircraft makes its maiden flight, taking off in Toulouse and circling the Bay of Biscay for four hours before returning to Toulouse. A year of flight testing and certification work begins. June 2005- Airbus announces that the plane’s delivery schedule will slip by six months. March 2006- The plane passes important safety tests involving 850 passengers and 20 crew safely leaving the aircraft in less than 80 seconds with half the exits blocked. July 2006- The A3809 suffers another production delay. Airbus now predicts a delay of a further six to seven months. This causes turmoil in the boardrooms of both Airbus and its parent company EADS. The company’s directors are accused of suppressing the news for months before revealing it to shareholders. It leads to the resignations of Gustav Humbert, Airbus’ Chief executive, Noel Forgeard, EADS co-chief executive, and Charles Campion, the A380 programme manager. October 2006- Airbus infuriates customers by announcing yet a further delay for the A380, this time of a whole year. The first plane is now forecast to enter commercial service around twenty months later than had been originally planned. The delays will cost Airbus another estimated £4.8 billion over the next four years. The company announces a drastic cost-cutting plan to try to recoup some of the losses. The Power8 programme is intended to ‘reduce costs, save cash and develop new products faster’. It wants to increase productivity by 20% and reduce overheads by 30%. October 2007- The supper-jumbo eventually takes off in full service as a commercial airliner for Singapore Airlines. It wins rave reviews from both airlines and passengers – even if it is two years late. So what caused the delays? First, the A380 was the most complex passenger jet ever to be built. Second, the company was...