Airbus A380: The wondrous giant that never quite took off

There’s nothing quite like seeing an Airbus A380 for the first time. It’s so big — the largest passenger plane ever built — that its wingspan almost runs the length of a soccer field, and more than 800 people could fit in one if all seats were economy class.

The ride is exceptionally comfortable, a plus when a flight can be as long as 16 hours and take you halfway around the world. The cabin offers plenty of space and opulent amenities, making it a favorite among passengers and crew.

Airlines, however, loved it much less: Airbus was hoping to sell as many as 750, instead it’s scheduled to halt production in 2021 after just over 250 will have rolled off the line in Toulouse, in the south of France. It’s been in service for just 13 years.

With a list price of about $450 million per aircraft, the A380 is a technological marvel packed with forward-thinking engineering, but it was conceived by taking cues from a bygone era of aviation, which ultimately clipped its wings.

The lifespan of the superjumbos already in service may well be further shortened by the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact on the aviation industry. An aircraft that was once considered to be the future of travel is seeing its past approach ever faster.

So how did this giant of the skies come to take flight in the first place?

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