Richard Branson loved the idea of the Airbus A380, and promised his airline would make the aircraft its flagship. But the economics of the airplane don't work for a carrier like Virgin Atlantic, and within the past few years, it became apparent the carrier would never fly them.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. canceled its order for six Airbus A380 superjumbos, finally acknowledging that the world’s largest passenger aircraft has no place in its fleet after years of deferring a decision on the double-decker.
The deletion appeared in Airbus’s monthly order-and-delivery tally, and was confirmed by the airline. Virgin originally ordered the aircraft more than a decade ago, but then proceeded to give only tepid support to the plane as it went on to build its fleet around smaller wide-body jets.
The cancellation comes on the same day that Airbus confirmed a cutback in production of the A380 to just six units a year from 2020 to reflect the lower order intake. Emirates is the only major customer for the plane, while most other operators haven’t made the giant aircraft a centerpiece of their fleets, taking instead only a dozen or so each.
Virgin’s languishing commitment speaks to Airbus’s malaise surrounding the A380 order book, with several other customers having ordered years ago but not followed through on actually taking the planes. Among them is Amadeo, an aircraft leasing business that ordered 20 A380s years ago and has failed to take delivery of a single one because it’s not been able to establish a leasing market for the model.
While Virgin has always positioned itself at the forefront of stylish travel that the A380 has sought to fulfill – think in-flight bars and enclosed suites – the change of heart may reflect to the carrier’s relatively new ownership structure. Founded by Richard Branson, Virgin is 49 percent owned by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. Air France-KLM Group, a Delta ally, has also agreed to buy a 31 percent stake in a move that will see the billionaire’s holding reduced to 20 percent. So far, no U.S. carrier has bought the A380 aircraft.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo credit: Richard Branson is a natural showman, and for marketing purposes the A380 is a great airplane. But twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787-9 are a better fit for the airline's network. Virgin Atlantic