After years of research Airbus decided to proceed with the 8.8 billion A380 project in 1999, the final budget settling at about 12 billion. The double-decker layout would provide higher seat capacities and, hence, cost savings over a traditional design.
Originally known as the A3XX, the A380 is a double-deck, four-engined airliner. Airbus began engineering development work in June 1994 with key design aims including the ability to use existing airport infrastructure with little modifications to the airports, and direct operating costs per seat 15-20% less than those for the 747-400. With 49% more floor space and only 35% more seating than the previous largest aircraft, Airbus is ensuring wider seats and aisles for more passenger comfort. Using the advanced technologies, the A380 is also designed to have 10-15% more range, lower fuel burn and emissions, and less noise.
The A380's wing has been designed to cope with a MTOW of 590t, albeit with some strenghtening required, allowing for a future stretch. The stronger wing and structure is used on today's freighter version, the A380-800F. This approach sacrifices some fuel efficiency on the initial passenger model but the sheer size of the aircraft coupled with the significant advances in technology over the years should provide lower operating costs per passenger than the 747.
With orders and options from nine customers (Air France, Emirates (the first customer), Federal Express (the cargo model launch customer), International Lease Finance Corporation, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic), the Airbus A380 was officially launched on December 19, 2000, and production started on January 23, 2002.
The upper deck extends the entire length of the fuselage allowing for a three-class configuration to seat 555 people, up to maximum of 853 in full economy class configuration. Airbus made the cockpit layout, procedures, and handling characteristics similar to those of other Airbus aircraft to reduce crew training costs. Accordingly, the A380 features a glass cockpit and side-stick flight controller driving the airplane by fly-by-wire technology.
Airbus operates 16 manufacturing sites across Europe, most of which produce parts for the new A380 airliner. First, the front and rear sections of the fuselage are loaded on an Airbus RORO ship, Ville de Bordeaux, in Hamburg, northern Germany, and are shipped to the United Kingdom. There the huge wings, which are manufactured at Filton in Bristol and Broughton in north Wales, are transported by barge to Mostyn docks where the ship adds them to its cargo. In Saint-Nazaire, western France, the ship trades the fuselage sections from Hamburg for larger, assembled sections, some of which include the nose. The ship unloads in Bordeaux. Afterwards, the ship picks up the belly and tail sections in Cadiz, southern Spain, and delivers them to Bordeaux.
From there the A380 parts are transported by barge to Langon, and by road to an assembly hall in Toulouse. New wider roads, extra canal systems, and barges were developed to deliver the massive A380 parts. After assembly the aircraft are flown to Hamburg to be furnished and painted. Final assembly began in 2004, with first aircraft (MSN001) displayed in January 2005. The first A380 prototype was unveiled during a ceremony in Toulouse, on January 18, 2005. Its manufacturer's serial number is 001, and is registered as F-WWOW.
The airliner took off for its maiden flight at 8:29 UTC (10:29 a.m. local time) on April 27, 2005, from runway 32L of Blagnac International Airport in Toulouse, France, taking off with a flight crew of six, 22 tons of flight test instrumentation and water ballasts.
The crew was made up of French test pilots Jacques Rosay (captain for the take-off and the initial part of the test flight) and Claude Lelaie (captain for the second part of the test flight including the landing), as well as three flight test engineers (Spanish, French, and German), and one French test flight engineer. With the recent Franco-German controversy over the leadership of EADS still fresh in mind, Airbus issued a statement to make it clear that the crew had been chosen not based on nationality, but based on competence.
The takeoff weight of the aircraft was 421 tonnes (464 US tons), or about 75 % of its maximum takeoff weight for commercial flights. This was the heaviest takeoff weight of any passenger airliner ever created. After takeoff the jet headed west toward the Bay of Biscay, then south over the northern Pyrenees Mountains and concluded with a low altitude fly-by over the town of Toulouse. The 233 minute flight involved conducting tests on its engines, hydraulics, and electronics, while the on-board test equipment recorded measurements for 150,000 different parameters and sent data back to computers on the ground.
The A380 was powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines and by mid-October 2005 had logged more than 100 flights and 350 hours in the air.
The A380-800 has a maximum range of 15,000km (sufficient to fly from Chicago to Sydney nonstop), and a cruising speed of 1,050km/h.
Sixteen airlines had ordered the A380 as of June 18, 2005, including an order from AIG's aircraft leasing unit, ILFC. A380 orders standing at 159, included 27 freighter versions. Break-even was estimated to be at 250 to 300 units. Airbus CEO, Noel Forgeard, had said he expected to sell 750 of the aircraft. Official prices have been withheld but it was estimated at $264 million.