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Was the Airbus A380 doomed from the start?

This week Airbus axed the jumbo jet. In 2007 my book New Ideas from Dead Ceos argued that the A380 was badly designed for the modern jet age.  Here’s an excerpt:

While Airbus nudged aside Boeing for the title of top airplane builder at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in 2006 Airbus skidded off the track… Airbus gathered orders for the behemoth A380 before the company knew how to build it.

The airplane has been delayed for several years because Airbus cannot figure out how to string together the hundred thousand wires that weave for hundreds of miles throughout the aircraft’s belly. Moreover, divergent software systems don’t seem to like to talk to one another. Delays to date have cost the firm about $6 billion, as airlines have cancelled orders, and Airbus has been forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars for breaching delivery schedules. Three chief executives have been axed in a year, and Airbus’s chief salesman, John Leahy, has publicly called the company an “absolute mess.”

He’s kept his job. At the A380’s original rollout in Toulouse, French president Jacques Chirac said: “The veritable ocean liner of the sky will go down in history like the Concorde.” Perhaps the irony did not translate well….

Airbus is selling a jet that makes airports obsolete, requiring authorities to invest many millions of dollars so that gates and runways can handle the superjumbo jet. Further, aviation scientists are now warning that the wake of an A380 could endanger planes that follow it. Big planes produce little tornados spiraling behind their wingtips. The International Civil Aviation Organization issues a surprising recommendation that planes maintain three times as much distance behind an A380 as behind a Boeing 747 jumbo. That means planes would wait longer on the runway before taking off, possibly clogging up airports, even though the A380 is supposed to reduce traffic by piling more people into one fat metal tube. At the moment, Airbus’s technological leap is annoying rather than enriching people.

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