Airbus and the Unlucky 8

Recently Airbus announced that it would stop the production of the largest airliner, the A380.  Despite its popularity with the passengers, the plane is unfortunately not popular to bean counters airlines executives.

The premature end of A380 productions (as compared to its rival, Boeing 747 series), also cap Airbus unlucky experience of using supposed-to-be lucky number of 8.

From A300 to A380

Both Airbus and Boeing have naming convention for its planes.  Airbus named its first model it produced, the A300.  Subsequently it named the model in multiply of 10: A310, A320, the A330 and A340 .

However, when Airbus announced the A380, it deliberately skipped A350, A360 and A370.  The number ‘8’ was chosen because it resembles the double-deck cross section – the A380 is the first airliner to have a full-length double-deck* – and it is considered as lucky number in Chinese numerology.

It is not uncommon for aircraft manufacturers to have different variants for the same model; different in range, capacity or generation.  For example, the 747 started as 747-100 and subsequent variant was named 747-200.  Airbus A330-200 is shorter (and has more range) than the A330-300.

The A380 has, in fact, two eights because the base (and only) variant of A380 is … 800.

Despite having two ‘8s’, the Airbus A380-800 – shortened as A388 – has not been having good sales.  Other than Emirates – which ordered half of A388s produced, no other airlines acquired the A388s in large number. The A380 programme was doomed.

Alas, Airbus continues to have problem with number 8.

Among other models Airbus is currently producing, A350 is its largest twin-engine wide-body airliner.  It has at least 3 variants, A350-900, A350-900ULR and A350-1000; with -900 has the shorter frame (and lower passenger capacity) as compared to A350-1000.  However, the A350-900 was not planned as the smallest variant.

Airbus planned to ‘shrink’ the -900 to even shorter frame (and with less passengers count) and name it A350-800.  It was meant to serve thinner route while maintaining commonality with its larger cousins. However, the shrink made the variant noncompetitive; so the -800 variant was a stillborn.

Airbus unlucky experience with ‘8’ does not stop here.  It recently launched the re-engined variant of its popular A330 model, called A330NEO (New Engine Option).  It has two variants, A330-800 and A330-900; with the former is having shorter frame (and longer range) than the later.

However, the -800 model has not been popular. Airbus has received order for only 8 A338 from one airline, Kuwait Airlines; as opposed to 231 orders for the A330-900 variant. It is unlikely for A338 variant to have large orders, considering that the -900 variant is as capable as -800 and the entire A330NEO line is facing stiff competition from Boeing 787s.

Boeing has a better experience with number 8.

Even though its latest variant of 747, the 747-8, is not selling well (with only 154 orders), the saving grace for Boeing is it spent a modest amount to develop B747-8 as it was a modification from earlier model, 747-400.   Boeing also could claim that nothing could dethrone the ‘queen of the skies’ as it will still be producing 747-8 – with current backlog and production rate – will still be produced when the last A380 leaves Airbus production line.

While the 747-8 is not considered successful, Boeing has a better experience with number 8 with its latest twin-engine wide-body model, the 787.  This model has been a runway success, clocking more than 1,400 orders. Its smallest variant, 787-8 has similarity to A388, it has a ‘double-eight’. However the similarity ends there as airlines ordered 444 B787-8s, well better than 251 orders for the A380s.

So, number 8 may not be a lucky number for everyone!

 

* Technically the A380 has 3 decks; however the passengers would see only the main deck and upper deck. The lower deck is used for cargo or crew rest area.

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